Negotiating Empire: The Cultural Politics of Schools in Puerto Rico, 1898-1952

by Solsiree del Moral

by Solsiree del Moral


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Negotiating Empire

Negotiating Empire

The Cultural Politics of Schools in

Puerto Rico, 18981952

Solsiree del Moral

The University of Wisconsin Press

Publication of this volume has been made possible, in part, through support from the

Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin

Madison and from the Department of History at the Pennsylvania State University.

The University of Wisconsin Press

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Madison, Wisconsin 53711-2059


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Copyright © 2013

The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval

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written permission of the University of Wisconsin Press, except in the case of brief

quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Del Moral, Solsiree.

Negotiating empire : the cultural politics of schools in Puerto Rico, 18981952 /

Solsiree del Moral.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-299-28934-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-299-28933-1 (e-book)

1. Puerto Rico—History—18981952. 2. Puerto Rico—Colonial influence. 3. Education—

Puerto Rico—History. 4. Americanization—History. I. Title.

F1975.M59 2013



To the teachers of Puerto Rico, on the Island and in the Diaspora


List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Hacer patria 3

chapter 1 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 24

chapter 2 El magisterio (the Teachers) 58

chapter 3 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 91

chapter 4 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 120

chapter 5 Parents and Students Claim Their Rights 150

Conclusion: Education, Nation, and Empire 178

Notes 185

Bibliography 203

Index 217



“School Begins,” January 1898 37

“Uncle Sam’s New Class in the Art of Self-Government,” August 1898 41

“America’s Greatest Gift to Porto Rico—the Public School, Caguas,” ca.

1900 46

La escuela del maestro Cordero, Francisco Oller, 1891 61

Celestina and maestro Rafael 67

Celestina as burden to maestro Rafael 68

“Directiva de la Asociación Local de Maestros” (The advisory board of the

local teachers’ association), 1925 78

“Hermanos Irizzary” (The Irizarry brothers), 1925 99

Schoolchildren dancing a minuet in Carolina, Puerto Rico, 1927 110

Racial types, 1926 136

“Porto-Rican boy,” 1926 139

A schoolroom in a rural school, Cidra, Puerto Rico, January 1938 159

Children coming home from school on a road near Manatí, Puerto Rico,

December 1941 168




Table 1. Schools, teachers, and students, 1910–1940 72

Table 2. Teachers by gender, 1920 and 1930 73

Table 3. Ponce schoolteachers, 1920 73

Table 4. San Juan schoolteachers, 1920 74

Table 5. Teachers by gender and age, 1920 75


When I discuss my research with friends, colleagues, and students, inevitably,

at some point in the conversation, I declare unapologetically: “Puerto Rico is

the center of the world!” A historian of empire must consider the case of Puerto

Rico. “The oldest colony in the world,” Puerto Rico has much to offer historical

understandings of Spanish colonialism in the Caribbean and the United States as

empire since 1898. 1 A historian of nation and nationalism cannot ignore how

national identities, national narratives, and cultural nationalism emerged in a

modern colony. A historian of diaspora has to make sense of how Puerto Ricans

can be considered, simultaneously, “foreign in a domestic sense,” US citizens, and

immigrants. 2 In so many ways, the history of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans challenges

the traditional boundaries of historical concepts such as empire, nation,

and diaspora.

A historian of Puerto Rico working in the United States, I have learned to take

radical positions about Puerto Rico, to demand it be inserted into all conversations

in a way that transforms our original arguments. It is a necessary reaction.

Contemporary colonialism has real consequences for the discipline of history.

Although the literature on US empire has expanded, dominant narratives of US

history rarely reflect on Puerto Rico. Many historians do not know that the diaspora

is the result of the historical link between Puerto Rico and the United States,

or that Puerto Ricans are US citizens, or that the island is not an independent

country. Latin American scholars may consider Puerto Rico in conversations

about the nineteenth century but routinely exclude it from the boundaries of Latin

American historical narratives after 1898. Within this framework, in academic




exchanges, I want to suggest ways that scholars of both regions might reconsider

how Puerto Rican history contributes to and challenges what we think we know.

In my approach to this book, I have been mindful of centering Puerto Rico in

historical narratives of US empire. At the same time, I want to locate teachers,

parents, and students at the core of the story. My challenge has been to tell the

story without presenting homogenized and polarized characterizations of either

local educators or US colonial officials. The hopes and visions of local and imperial

actors came together in the classroom. Schools became the institution through

which both Puerto Rican teachers and US colonial administrators intended to

promote their visions of nation, citizenship, and empire. Those visions were, at

times, contradictory, at others, complementary. In the end, original positions

were transformed. Parents and students confronted and contributed to the definition

of those visions in the classroom. Through the historical cycles of the first

half of the twentieth century, the classroom remained the location where they

negotiated state goals and individual dreams. I am a student of Puerto Rican history,

and my intention is to present a story of schools, teachers, and students in

the first half of the twentieth century without losing sight of the power dynamics

between island and empire.

This book began as a history dissertation at the University of Wisconsin

Madison, where I had the privilege to work with leading historians of Latin

America and the Caribbean Francisco A. Scarano, Florencia Mallon, and Steve

Stern. The Graduate School, the History Department, and the Latin American

and Caribbean Studies Program supported my research with the Graduate

School Domestic Research Travel Grant, the Tinker Travel Research Grant, and

the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship. I also thank the University of Wisconsin

System Institute on Race and Ethnicity Graduate Scholar-in-Residence Program

and Luis Villar, the Latin American bibliographer at Memorial Library. The gift

of time spent at the University of Wisconsin was the community of scholars and

friends whose academic exchanges helped me better understand Latin American

and Caribbean history as well as my contribution to the scholarship. I thank

Ileana Rodríguez-Silva, Lillian Guerra, Gabrielle Kuenzli, Gladys McCormick,

Jaymie Heilman, Andrés Matías-Ortiz, Marc A. Hertzman, Ana Schaposchnik,

Claudio Barrientos, Kathleen Kae, and Tiffany Florvil.

Navigating libraries and archival collections in Puerto Rico requires a community

of support. I thank the archivists and staff at the Archivo General de Puerto

Rico, the librarians and student staff at the Colección Puertorriqueña at the University

of Puerto Rico, and the staff at the Centro de Reproducciones at the Biblioteca

Lázaro. At the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), I thank

the staff at the Public Relations office in San Juan and Mrs. Nancy Bosch, Mr.



Reyes Rodríguez, and the Secretaria de Actas for granting me access to the minutes

of the AMPR. In addition, I thank my personal team of researchers. First, my

grandmother, Angela Idalia Sánchez Rivera, connected me to teachers, administrators,

libraries, and community members in Arroyo, Patillas, and Guayama,

in addition to collecting materials and documents. Second, my aunt, Antonia del

Moral Colón, introduced me to educators in San Juan and Río Piedras. Third, my

friend, Lesli Ann Vázquez Vargas, helped me secure historical documents without

which my research would have been incomplete.

At the Pennsylvania State University, the postdoctoral fellowship at the Afri -

cana Research Center provided space, funding, workshops, and colleagues. I

thank my fellow postdocs, Shirley Moody-Turner, Carina Ray, and Eden Renee-

Pruitt, for many conversations about researching the African Diaspora. In the

History Department, Sally A. McMurry and Michael Kulikowski provided leader -

ship as they helped me navigate the process of preparing the book for publication.

At different moments, Lori Ginzberg, Mrinalini Sinha, and Nan E. Woodruff have

served in the important role of mentor. I also thank Eric Novotny, Humanities

Librarian at Penn State, for locating research materials at Penn State and elsewhere.

At Penn State, I am lucky to have been part of a community of scholars

of race and gender in the African Diaspora. Gabeba Baderoon, Alyssa Garcia,

Kath ryn T. Gines, and Shirley C. Moody-Turner read multiple drafts of chapters

and provided insightful feedback along the way. More significant yet has

been their friendship, camaraderie, and wisdom. In addition, I thank Christine

Buzinde, Grace Delgado, Kimberly Griffin, Russell Lohse, Leticia Oseguera,

Antoinette Pressley-Sanon, Matthew Restall, Cheraine Stanford, and Jeanine

Staples. I thank my graduate and undergraduate students. Through the courses I

offered on the history of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Latin America, the African

Diaspora, and US empire, they have forced me to reflect, refine, and shape my

arguments and construction of narratives. My work has also been shaped by

exchanges with colleagues at various conferences over the years. I thank those

who challenged my arguments at the conferences of the American Historical

Association, the Latin American Studies Association, and the Association for the

Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora but especially the Puerto Rican Studies

Association. My work has been transformed through these multiple forms of

academic engagement.

I thank Gwen Walker, acquisitions editor at the University of Wisconsin Press,

for insightful feedback and direction since the early stages of this project. The

final version of the book manuscript is much different from the first version submitted

to Gwen, thanks to the careful and insightful comments of the anonymous

reviewers. Thank you also to Matthew Cosby, Adam Mehring, Mary M.



Hill, and other staff at the University of Wisconsin Press for their expertise at

each stage of the production process.

Finally, I thank my parents, William del Moral Colón and Nayda Alicea

Sánchez, and my brothers and sister. Ileana Rodríguez-Silva, a fellow historian of

Puerto Rico, is also family. It is to her that I am most indebted intellectually. I

thank her for unwavering engagement with the history of race and colonialism in

Puerto Rico. Gladys McCormick walked with me at every step of the project.

Thank you to my family and friends for years of support and inspiration.

Negotiating Empire


Hacer patria

During the first week of December in 1920, teachers, parents, and students came

together to celebrate the progress and promise of schools. Local committees

organized conferences, exhibitions, and parades that acknowledged schools as “a

great factor in the progressive action of the people of Puerto Rico.” 1 In Mayagüez,

teachers and staff of the Reform School held a parade and school festival in the

town plaza. During the morning of December 6, school students, or, rather, asilados

(inmates), paraded through city streets carrying banners that read: “Pueblo

que no educa a sus hijos, crea su propia desgracia” (A people that does not educate

its children creates its own misfortune), “Escuelas significan progreso; Analfabetismo,

desgracia” (Schools signify progress; illiteracy, misfortune), “Hombres

que vais al poder: ¡Más escuelas! ¡Más escuelas!” (Attention men in power: More

schools! More schools!), and “Se necesita el pan de la enseñanza” (Education is

our nourishment). 2

The children’s parade, testifying to the value of schools in the community and

to student demand for instruction, generated positive reviews. A newspaper article

titled “Hacer patria” (To build the nation) celebrated the school activities, for

they best typified the practice of creating citizens and building the nation. “The

practice of making patria is entrusted, in part, to the mentors of our youth. Making

patria, developing patriots, is the noblest of missions that the guides and

shepherds of peoples can have. . . . And you make patria by creating a youth that

is vigorous, strong, dedicated, enterprising, a lover of progress, reverential of the

virtue of citizenship, and defender of its land and its home.” The key to forming

a modern community of citizens committed to the progress of the nation

was education, that is, schools and teachers. Patriots were “created neither in the


4 Introduction: Hacer patria

battlefields nor in the military.” Rather, “the patriot and the patria were created

[se forman] in the school.” As the Mayagüez Reform School transformed its

“juvenile delinquents” into “citizens useful to society,” it was practicing the

“regeneration of humanity.” The article concluded with an enthusiastic call for all

to support schools in the nation-building process: “Let us build patria through

the school. . . . Let us make patriots through instruction.” 3

Other activities, framed within a similar enthusiasm for schools and progress,

were organized in communities throughout the island. Teachers in the town of

Coamo, for example, distributed flyers announcing the week’s local events.

Addressed to interested and committed members of the community, the flyer

called on “fellow citizens” to attend and “demonstrate their interest (today more

than yesterday) in the progress of our School.” It introduced the guiding concepts

that defined the relationship between schools, teachers, the patria, and citizenship.

“Distinguished patriots: New times demand new ideas. Institutions are sustained

on the spirit of ideas, and they, ideas, eternally evolve as they obey the in -

variable laws of progress. Today a new era begins, an era of great moral as well

as spiritual significance for the progress of our society. Different today from yesterday

are time, circumstances, and methods.” The post–World War I period

was a historical moment guided by new ideas and methods. It promised to be a

“modern era,” one that demanded sweeping change, transformation, and adjustment.

Teachers acknowledged that the people of Puerto Rico had “transcendental

problems to resolve such as the social, economic, cultural, political, and so on.”

And they designated themselves as the dynamic actor of the community who

would lead in the evolution and progress of the island and its people. “The teachers

of Puerto Rico [la clase magisterial], an undeniable factor in the progressive

evolution of the Puerto Rican people, will never remain indifferent to these problems.”

4 Parents, too, were responsible for participating in the changes that defined

the era through which they were living. They called on parents to awaken, gain

consciousness, and take action.

The activities in Mayagüez and Coamo embodied the framework that shaped

the relationship between schools, communities, colonialism, and modernity in

early twentieth-century Puerto Rico. Teachers proposed that “progress” and

“mod ernity” were just around the corner for the island and its people. They were

within reach of everyone. Schools represented wheels of change and progress.

They were the sites through which all positive, modern, and “regenerative” methods

were practiced. Modern education, in particular, was the key to transformation.

However, it was the teacher who could unlock all these promises for students

and their families. The changes teachers and schools promised students were

greater than the individual. These changes imagined the transformation of the

Introduction: Hacer patria 5

patria. The patria must progress and join other modern civilizations. Education,

therefore, was a practice in citizenship building. The flyers and announcements

called for the formation of citizens and for community participation in nationbuilding

processes while locating teachers and public schools as the actors and

institutions that would lead.

Teachers suggested that although the people of Puerto Rico did not yet meet

the intellectual, physical, and moral requirements of citizenship, with the help of

public instruction they could be transformed into a healthy, moral, and intelligent

community of citizens who could together compose the future Puerto Rican

nation. Teachers would help their students evolve from colonial subjects into

national citizens, from illiterates into intellectuals capable of comprehending and

practicing their civic duties. Teachers and educators would reach into the island’s

most distant, isolated, rural, and traditional communities and incorporate them

into a modern, progressive, and democratic nation. Both the Mayagüez newspaper

report and Coamo flyer suggested that teachers and educators imagined an

alternative nationalist project to the US colonial policy of Americanization. This

was one of many examples where local teachers promoted their own political

vision for Puerto Rico.

This framework, however, also proposed a series of questions. It required clarification

about how teachers defined the relationship between US empire, Puerto

Rico as its colonial territory, and citizenship. Teachers called for the formation

of citizens and the progress of the patria. But how were they conceptualizing the

patria? They identified Puerto Rico as the patria. However, their definition of

patria did not deny the island’s colonial relationship to the United States. In fact,

teachers engaged an expansive and dynamic definition of patria and “nation” that

was deeply informed by the island’s late nineteenth-century history with autonom -

ism. They saw no contradiction in the formation of a national identity rooted in

a territory that remained “under the protection” of a larger, imperial power. Given

this conceptualization of patria, what kind of citizens did teachers imagine they

would create? Colonial citizens? US citizens? Puerto Rican citizens?

In addition, how did teachers define regeneration, progress, and modernity?

Their writings, lectures, and practices suggest that citizenship building required

a regeneration of sorts. The concept of regeneration was deeply informed by

neo-Lamarckian eugenic language. 5 Teachers made assumptions about who and

what was holding back the wheels of progress. It was the people themselves. Both

rural peasants (jíbaros) and urban workers represented physical manifestations

of dysgenic genes and practices. Teachers looked at students in the classroom and

identified in their bodies the alleged effects of poverty, tradition, and ignorance.

The scientific racial theory of neo-Lamarckian eugenics, as interpreted locally

6 Introduction: Hacer patria

by educators, promised regeneration. Through the sanitation of the home and

streets, communities could be cleansed. That implied doing away with “social

poisons” like alcoholism, prostitution, gambling, and concubinaje. Modern education

methods and progressive visions promised to contribute to the sanitation

of the community, the home, and the individual. Through the hygienic and scientific

instruction of physical education, domestic science, and rural agriculture,

teachers could lead the transformation of the students, their communities, and,

by extension, the patria.

This quest for regeneration, in turn, generated other questions. Who were

teachers to allege that students and their families were “degenerate”? How were

teachers different from the students they taught every day? Teachers, in fact, held

great cultural capital in early twentieth-century Puerto Rico. Unlike the majority

of the population, they were literate. They were professionals in charge of local

schools. They owned their skill and knowledge. Teachers, however, also generated

a paternalistic relationship with students and parents. They were better

educated, representing social behaviors of a class different from the majority of

their nonelite students. Teachers were not doctors and lawyers; instead, they

were poorly paid and badly treated civil servants. They did hold some authority

over their students and the respect of the community. Teachers were in an intermediate

position: they were required to implement education policies directed

at them from above (the Department of Education) while dependent on the

reception of those from below (students and parents). Teachers were also modern

actors. They located themselves at the center of change in Puerto Rico. If

the island was to progress, to modernize, it would be at the hands of teachers. As

a professional group, teachers were dynamic and undergoing their own transformation.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the profession experienced

great changes in its demographics and training. Along the way, teachers

reconceptualized their definition of citizenship and their vision for the patria.

The Coamo and Mayagüez examples introduce some of this book’s guiding

concerns. By centering teachers, schools, and education at the heart of the discussion,

we can better understand how intermediate actors in colonial Puerto

Rico contributed to the dynamic relationship between empire, nation, and citizen

while promising to enact regeneration, progress, and modernity.

Puerto Rico as Colony and Nation

In 1898 the United States invaded Puerto Rico during the Cuban Wars of Independence,

acquired the island from Spain through the Treaty of Paris, and occupied

it through a military government for two years. From 1900 until 1952 Puerto

Introduction: Hacer patria 7

Rico was defined as an “unincorporated territory” of the United States. There

were changes in constitutions, from the Foraker Act to the Jones Act. Puerto

Ricans born on the island were granted US citizenship in 1917. Puerto Rico,

however, was to remain an unincorporated territory. It was not on the path to

independence like Cuba; it would not be incorporated like Hawaii. It would

remain a colony. Puerto Rico was valuable to the US empire for multiple reasons:

access to the Panama Canal, a site for military bases, a US presence in the

Caribbean region. It was important for US capital, businesses, and corporations.

Like so many countries of the Caribbean and Central America, Puerto Rico was

a location for US capital to invest in export commodities, particularly sugar. For

military and economic reasons, it was important to establish a colonial state on

the island that remained under the control and authority of the US Congress and

served the interests of the US empire. 6

Education and schools were at the heart of US imperial intentions in Puerto

Rico. US imperial actors were invested in generating support for US colonialism

on the island. One goal was converting colonial subjects into “tropical Yankees”

through the teaching of English and the celebration of US history and patriot ism. 7

US educators and administrators aggressively promoted the new colonial state

ideology of Americanization. Americanization ideologies could be broad or narrow

as well as constructive or destructive. Educators imagined the transformation

of colonial subjects into second-class citizens under the assumption that

they were not to be fully incorporated into the United States. This perspective

informed education projects both in the colonies and on the mainland. Puerto

Ricans were one of several new colonial peoples of the US empire. Liberal US policy

makers asked themselves: What should be done with the new colonial peoples,

that is, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Filipinos, and Hawaiians? Existing education

projects in the United States for nonwhite peoples informed this concern. Therefore,

schools and curriculum in Puerto Rico evolved in conversation with the

experiences that guided Native American boarding schools and African American

industrial training institutes in the United States as much as they re flected

the long-standing vision of Americanization and schooling in Hawaii. In Puerto

Rico, the goal of the US colonial state was to carry out a school project that in -

tended to uplift the new colonial subjects within the broader framework of white

supremacy in the nation and empire. Americanization reflected the racial, ethnic,

and cultural hierarchies and practices of early twentieth-century US educators. 8

More specifically, Aida Negrón de Montilla defined Americanization as the

intention to displace a native Puerto Rican culture with an American one or the

assimilation of Puerto Rican culture into the dominant US culture. Americanization,

as a form of cultural assimilation, was meant to generate support and loyalty

8 Introduction: Hacer patria

for US colonialism in Puerto Rico. She documented the multiple ways US commissioners

of education intended to inculcate students with a love of all things

American through the teaching of US history, the supplanting of Puerto Rican

patriots with American ones, the daily ritual of reciting the pledge of allegiance,

and the celebration of patriotic holidays and parades. The underlying assumption

guiding Americanization policies, according to Negrón de Montilla, was an ideology

that maintained the superiority of US cultural values and the inferiority of

Puerto Rican ones. It was the leadership of the Department of Education, particularly

the commissioners, who were responsible for implementing these policies. 9

After 1898, with the founding of a US colonial state on the island, Puerto

Rico’s history shared a trajectory with other members of the US empire. This

imperial framework, however, did not erase Puerto Rico’s four hundred years

of history in the Caribbean and Latin America. In many ways, Puerto Rico’s

early twentieth-century educators shared ideas and practices with others in the

neighboring Caribbean and Latin American countries. In the quest to better

understand state formation and national identities in Latin America, scholars

often reference the centrality of education, public schools, and teachers to those

processes. In Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, for example, since the late nineteenth

century, efforts to consolidate the national territory, popularize a national

historical narrative, and define the uniqueness of national identities required the

cooperation of schools and teachers. Schools and history lessons in particular

were in the service of the nation. 10

Schools were equally significant in early twentieth-century Puerto Rico, if not

more so. As they had in other Latin American countries, schools, particularly the

expansion of a secular public school system accessible to all, became a priority

of the state in the early twentieth century. 11 In Puerto Rico, however, the new

state was colonial. 12 Under the banner of “benevolent imperialism,” the United

States founded new public schools and trained both US and Puerto Rican teachers.

The intention was to expand the reach of the government into rural areas,

to manage urban populations, and to consolidate the authority of the central

state. The ideology and curriculum that shaped the early schools—Americanization—intended

to generate support for US colonialism. To accomplish this colonial

state-building goal, a large number of state agents—public schoolteachers—

were recruited, hired, and trained by the Department of Education in collaboration

with the University of Puerto Rico. They were then deployed throughout

the island as leaders of new urban and rural schools. 13 Teachers, however, were

met with suspicion by local leadership. When they arrived in rural communities,

in particular, and demanded that children be removed from working in the fields

and plantations and sent to school, they faced opposition from the landed elite

Introduction: Hacer patria 9

and some parents. Teachers’ intentions, and those of the colonial state, did not

always complement the existing role of children and labor in rural communities

and urban households.

During the early years, the US government attempted to import as many

US teachers as possible to Puerto Rico. However, it could not recruit enough

teachers to fill all the vacancies, and new recruits were not always prepared to

work in Spanish-speaking rural communities. At the same time, commissioners

of education sent as many Puerto Rican teachers to the United States as possible

to receive training in US methods, while in the island they employed US teachers

as the instructors of Puerto Rican ones. Nevertheless, this was too limited. Eventually,

the Department of Education and the University of Puerto Rico recruited

“locals,” Puerto Rican men and women, into the profession. Many of the new

teachers in the early years of the US empire were local teachers who had been

decertified with the arrival of US forces in 1898.

By the 1920s, most teachers were young adults from middle-class and intermediate

backgrounds. 14 Many came from top schools in urban towns. Although

many were bilingual (they had to pass English-language requirements to be

certified to teach in local schools), the majority were Spanish speakers. They

were trained at the University of Puerto Rico by both Puerto Rican and US

educators and instilled with the ideology of Americanization. However, they

were not empty vessels, for they came to the profession with the class, gender,

and race biases that informed the social hierarchy of turn-of-the-century Puerto

Rico. Teachers, therefore, also represented an obstacle for the Americanizing

intentions of the US colonial state.

The fact that the majority of teachers were Puerto Rican rather than American,

however, does not imply that they were inherently guided by different philosophies

and intentions. In fact, Puerto Rican teachers shared many similarities with

early US teachers as well as members of the teaching profession in other Latin

American countries. 15 Teachers owned important social capital. They were literate,

educated, employed by the state, in charge of schools and classrooms, and

responsible for educating a new generation of children. They held authority

and status outside of the schools as well as members of the professional class in

local communities. Puerto Rican teachers, however, were members of a highly

patriarchal society that defined the location of its members on a social hierarchy

according to a dominant honor code deeply informed by race, class, and gender. 16

The new generation of Puerto Rican teachers negotiated their relationship with

both local communities and the centralized colonial state in a way different from

that of US teachers. Local teachers, therefore, posed a grave challenge to the state

goal of Americanization. They advocated for a citizenship-building project that

10 Introduction: Hacer patria

would serve emerging national Puerto Rican identities in the early twentieth century.

While teachers allowed for a definition ofPuerto Rican identity” that was

associated with the United States, they did not promote the creation of either

“tropical Yankees” or Americans.

The differences between Puerto Rico and other Latin American examples

(a colonial versus a national state, Americanization versus nationalism, foreign

versus “native” teachers), while significant, did not mean that Puerto Rico’s experience

was unique. There were crucial and significant intentions that drew Puerto

Rico ever more closely to other Latin American cases. For example, local teachers

and educators in Puerto Rico stood out as the historical actors that might

challenge the top-down intentions of the US colonial state project. Teachers,

therefore, were not simple transmitters of US colonial policy but, rather, critical

actors who challenged and negotiated Americanization ideologies daily through

the schools. In this way, teachers became emblematic of how local actors daily

negotiated the intentions of the state and contributed to the process of state formation,

although specifically the construction of a US colonial state rather than

a nation-state. 17 Equally significant, however, is recognizing how the teaching

community constantly reconstructed itself. Teachers were not simple representatives

of the US colonial state, but they were also not a simple undifferentiated

class. Members of the teaching profession represented multiple generation, class,

race, and gender visions. They proposed nuanced projects for the regeneration

of the raza, or “national race.” These debates and divisions and how they were

negotiated through colonial schools, therefore, were emblematic of the process

of colonial state formation in Puerto Rico.

Fundamentally, this study asks: How can the history of schools and teachers

in Puerto Rico help scholars understand the practices of US empire, the process

of colonial state building, and the construction of national identities in Puerto

Rico, the Caribbean, and the United States more broadly? This is the guiding

question that informs this study of schools, race, nation, and empire.

Americanization, US Empire, and Historiography

Since the 1990s, scholars of Puerto Rico have proposed critiques of the history

of US empire in conversation with broader Caribbean and Pacific literature. 18

US empire has been conceptualized beyond economic, political, and military

“hard” policies and practices. In addition to the histories of political intervention

and occupation of Caribbean island nations, the practice of modern US empire

is equally intrusive and present through the imagined promises of “benevolent”

and cultural imperialism. 19 Scholarship has also identified US empire as one of

Introduction: Hacer patria 11

multiple competing elite political projects in the region, for it was operating in

relation to the already present Spanish, French, and English versions. US imperialism,

additionally, engaged in an uncomfortable but complementary relationship

with the economic, political, and social interests of the local, elite, liberal class. 20

More specific to the formation of Puerto Rican identities in the early twentieth

century, scholars have proposed that, despite the malleability of US imperial

practices, politicians, intellectuals, and professionals in those years began to define

the history, heritage, and culture of the island in direct comparison to the United

States. This emerging national identity of Puerto Ricanness was strongly debated,

contested, and reconstructed. 21 Nevertheless, at its foundation it claimed clear

elements of difference from Americans. Puerto Rican “cultural identity,” according

to scholars, was defined as of Latin/Hispanic heritage, Spanish-speaking,

Catholic, and shaped by the gran familia puertorriqueña. The gran familia was a

concept that romanticized the family and labor relationships of the nineteenth

century, where the male head of household held authority over his wife and children

while addressing the material needs of his indebted laborers on the plantation.

This racialized, gendered, and classed image of the unity of Puerto Ricans

was constructed as one of many fundamental differences between Puerto Ricans

and the United States as the Other. 22 Within this island-based critique of the construction

of national identities, scholars have highlighted how nonelite actors,

particularly workers and laborers, also deployed the dominant honor code and

the concept of the gran familia in defense of their own rights before both the

Spanish and the US colonial states as well as the local elite. 23

Scholarship about Puerto Rico has been dynamic and innovative in the forms

of critique and reflection it provides for our understanding of the malleability

of US imperial practices on the island and, more broadly, in the region throughout

the early twentieth century. While acknowledging the political framework

that emerged when the United States acquired, occupied, and retained the island

as an unincorporated territory, scholars have proposed the multiple ways that

local actors engaged with and negotiated the top-down intentions of the new

US colonial state. Nevertheless, while authors have reevaluated the negotiated

processes of state formation, colonialism, and empire building in Puerto Rico,

few have proposed that one of the principal symbols of US empire—education

and Americanization—was also negotiated. Scholars have not challenged the

dominant interpretation that US colonial school policies, specifically Americani -

zation, were frighteningly oppressive, repressive, top-down, and somehow omni -

present. 24 This interpretation of Americanization—which proposes that it was

a self-serving US colonial policy that advocated for the cultural genocide of

the Puerto Rican people’s culture, heritage, language, and history—generated a

12 Introduction: Hacer patria

complementary narrative. It allowed for the conceptualization of teachers as

heroic actors who defended and cultivated emerging Puerto Rican national identities

at the risk of professional censure. 25 The trope of Americanization, despite

the fact that it falls within the larger conversation of US imperial policies, has survived

and reproduced the oppression/resistance dichotomy. Why?

Americanization retains a hegemonic location in early twentieth-century conceptualizations

of US empire in Puerto Rico for multiple reasons. Let’s identify

two. The first speaks to questions of historiography, methods, and sources. The

second is informed by the politics of empire and cultural nationalism in contemporary

Puerto Rico. Early twentieth-century Puerto Rican history is often

approached through the lens of Americanization, not only through the framework

of the specific intentions of Americanization through education but, more

broadly, the Americanization of the island’s economy, politics, and society. At the

core of the critiques of the narrative of “benevolent imperialism” on the island,

however, is Americanization through schools. And the most significant contribution

to this historical conversation has been Aida Negrón de Montilla’s La

americanización en Puerto Rico y el sistema de instrucción pública, 1900–1930 (The

Americanization of Puerto Rico and the public school system). Negrón de Montilla’s

study is a history of top-down policies promoted by US commissioners of

education. She carefully and painstakingly documented, through a clear and concise

narrative, how in the early twentieth century, despite some variations in the

visions of individual commissioners, Americanization was the primary political

framework that shaped the founding and expansion of public schools. She recognized

that there were variations of the definition of Americanization at play within

the elite group of US educators. Ultimately, she argued, they were guided by the

intention to cultivate a new generation of students who could be pro-American

and supportive of US colonialism, what José Manuel Navarro coined “tropical

Yankees.” 26 This cultivation of pro-American colonial subjects was imagined to

come to fruition through tight control over a new curriculum that promoted US

patriots and civic history and US definitions of progress, democracy, and modernity.

At the core of the curriculum was English as the language of instruction.

It is significant that Negrón de Montilla concluded her study by recognizing

the limitations of one of her primary documentary sources, the annual reports

of the commissioners of education. 27 The annual reports, specifically, represented

the voice of elite US administrators. They recorded a conversation between

regional directors on the island, the commissioner, and the US president. The

reports, therefore, celebrated the alleged successes of Americanization efforts in

Puerto Rico. Negrón de Montilla called on researchers to unearth alternative

sources that could attest to the history of resistance to Americanization and to

Introduction: Hacer patria 13

document other perspectives about the history of colonial education in the early

twentieth century. Despite her recognition, as a historian, that her source base

restricted the framework of her argument, her interpretation of Americanization

policies in Puerto Rico remains dominant: the US goal was to Americanize

Puerto Ricans; without teacher and student resistance, Americanization would

have generated the “social death” of a generation.

Negrón de Montilla’s study was significant for how it contributed to a foundational

narrative about the evils of US imperialism in Puerto Rico. Her conceptualization

about the practices of Americanization highlighted that it required the

deprecation of local culture. US educators imagined that there was very little value

in Puerto Rican culture that could be reproduced in the schools. Instead, children

represented a clean slate, for despite their inferiorities, they could be uplifted and

molded into a colonial version of young Americans. Americanization through

schools was also informed by the assumption that Puerto Rico would remain a

permanent colony of the United States, unlike Cuba and the Philippines. Therefore,

Americans assumed the right to redefine the future “personality” of Puerto

Ricans, erase past history, celebrate the alleged liberation of the island from Spain,

and promote a measured assimilation of the new colonial subjects.

Negrón de Montilla’s arguments and narrative remain at the core of the history

of education and the history of early twentieth-century Puerto Rico, so much

so that scholarship does not stray far from her framework. In addition, research

has continued to rely on the same source base—the annual reports of the commissioners

of education. The annual reports, in fact, are omnipresent in Puerto Rico’s

scholarship. They are some of the most researched, cited, and mined sources,

and with good reason. They are readily available at most research institutions in

hard copies, on microfilms, and through interlibrary loan. In fact, the annual

reports are truly an invaluable source for Puerto Rican history, for in addition to

serving as brilliant examples of Americanization ideologies, they document the

dynamic growth of the school system in those early years. The colonial government

founded new schools and trained and hired a new generation of teachers.

Hundreds of thousands of children attended school for the first time. The reports

also detail changes in policies, reflecting how historical moments shaped curriculum.

War-work campaigns took center stage during World War I. Elitist athletics

became more inclusive physical education programs after the war. School lunchrooms

and cafeterias were founded in ever larger numbers in the 1930s. In so

many ways, the annual reports document how Puerto Rican society transformed.

However, there are significant limitations to the source, particularly voice

and vision. As mentioned earlier, the reports were written by commissioners of

education appointed by the US president. They were crafted for consumption

14 Introduction: Hacer patria

by the US president and other colonial officials. The narrative was intended to

confirm the supremacy of US imperial policies on the island, to document the

success of assimilation and colonial state building in Puerto Rico as a model for

other campaigns in the mainland and colonies. The colonial school project in

Puerto Rico, scholars remind us, was practiced in conversation with competing

projects in Hawaii, the Philippines, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the

Southwest. The annual reports, therefore, glorified the alleged successes of Amer -

icanization campaigns. They were produced through the voice of US imperialists

and meant to highlight the “benevolence” of the United States as a “modern”

empire. Uncle Sam was paternalistic and dominant without losing compassion

for his colonial subjects. 28

As students of Puerto Rican history and of US imperial history more broadly,

we have to be aware of the limits of this historical source. It does not tell the entire

story. No matter how carefully we try to employ critical historical methods and

read between the lines, we cannot find the varied perspectives of Puerto Rican

teachers who had already been practicing when US forces arrived. It homogenizes

the important identities and divisions within a new generation of teachers

that emerged in the 1920s. It cannot fully represent the demands and expectations

of parents and students in the 1940s.

Therefore, the questions for us today—and the call proposed by Negrón de

Mon tilla in the conclusion of her study—are: What have these governmentproduced

sources and top-down conceptualizations of Americanization left out

of the story? Whose voices have been excluded, sanitized, and silenced? How have

scholars inadvertently reproduced these silences in the analysis of the sources?

Can we, as students of history invested in providing a critical and nuanced understanding

of both US imperial practices and Puerto Rican society in the early twentieth

century, produce a more balanced story? How do we move past the oppression/resistance

dichotomy? Did the early twentieth-century history of schools

not share the dynamic struggles and challenges that have been proposed for the

history of the working class? 29 Were Puerto Rican teachers, parents, and students

simple receptors of top-down Americanization policies? Or did they offer their

own interpretations and visions along with manipulations of the concept? Why

would Americanization through schools be the only location where dynamic heg -

emonic processes were not in play? 30 Providing a critical history of early twentiethcentury

Puerto Rico, one that privileges the contributions of non elite historical

actors, requires that we ask broader questions and search for different sources.

Those perspectives, demands, and negotiations, which are at the core of the

“cultural politics” of colonial schools in Puerto Rico, have not yet been exposed. 31

I propose a reinterpretation of the history of early colonial schools. In conversation

Introduction: Hacer patria 15

with scholars of the history of education, empire, and the subaltern, I propose to

unmask the “hidden history” of Puerto Rico’s schools during the first half of the

twentieth century, a moment that is most notoriously understood to be symbolic

of the ideological violence of Americanization and US colonialism. 32

Cultural Politics of Schools,

Cultural Nationalism, and Modern Colonialism

The historiography, therefore, has reproduced theories, methods, and narratives

that serve to further consolidate a monolithic interpretation of the centrality of

Americanization practices in early twentieth-century Puerto Rico. However, the

narrative of Americanization, the dichotomy of oppression and resistance, is also

reproduced in the contemporary politics of cultural nationalism in a colonial/

postcolonial context. While Puerto Rican cultural-nationalist identities are vibrant

and dynamic, they are also fragile. They are constructed, practiced, and reproduced

within a modern version of a colonial state, for despite the celebration of

cultural nationalism in modern (post-1950s) Puerto Rico, fundamentally, the

island lacks political sovereignty over its territory. While it functions as a semiindependent

state associated to the United States, it remains a colonial territory.

Everyday reminders of US authority and presence on the island—evident in the

existence of military bases or through fear of “contamination” in popular culture

and language—generate tremendous anxiety and require that cultural nationalists

continue to clearly reestablish the boundaries between “Puerto Rican” and

“American” ways. 33

Puerto Rican intellectuals and scholars collaborated with Governor Luis

Muñoz Marín and the Partido Popular Democrático (PPD, Popular Democratic

Party) in the 1950s to define a new “cultural nationalism.” Cultural nationalism

became a state-sponsored identity that has served both the colonial government

and multiple sectors of society. At the core of the celebration of cultural nationalism

is a definition of Puerto Rican “authenticity” that is constructed in direct

opposition to that imagined to be “American.” Very simply, Puerto Ricans speak

Spanish; Americans speak English. Puerto Ricans embody a history of racial harmony;

Americans are white supremacists and maintain rigid racial hierarchies.

Puerto Rican women flourish within the gran familia puertorriqueña and find freedom

of expression through “social feminism”; US feminist ideologies fall outside

of the national “family.” The dichotomy produces unrealistic and uncritical gener -

alizations of both groups. According to the cultural-nationalist narrative, in addition,

Puerto Rican cultural identities, best personified through the performance

of difference (language, racial harmony, and gender roles), have survived in spite

16 Introduction: Hacer patria

of the virulent and oppressive Americanization campaigns carried out in the early

twentieth century. As scholars have proposed, emerging Puerto Rican national

identities were constructed in opposition to the Other, the Americanos. 34

Two cultural markers particularly susceptible to contamination within the

framework of cultural nationalism are language and history. English-language

instruction was a requirement of Americanization policies. Therefore, the imposition

of English-language instruction in the early twentieth century was a direct

challenge to Puerto Rican culture and identity, for Spanish was the vernacular in

homes, government, and business. English-language instruction provoked fears

of cultural genocide. The US intention to impose English-language instruction

generated resistance from teachers, parents, politicians, intellectuals, and others.

The resistance to English was not a myth but a fact. Teachers led the opposition

to English-language instruction and suffered the consequences—professional re -

pression, blacklisting, and firings. 35 Spanish-language policies continue to inform

contemporary cultural-nationalist debates. In turn, a defiant resistance to English,

a glorification of Spanish, and a rejection of “Spanglish” are important national

performances. While scholars have proposed the malleability of US imperial

policies, few have critiqued the heroic history of teachers’ resistance to English.

The potential corruption of Spanish language among Puerto Ricans “here and

there” (island and mainland) is also a contemporary fear. This fear was at the root

of destructive 1970s cultural identity debates and is part of everyday conversations

within families who have members living “en la isla y afuera.” Language

remains at the heart of cultural-nationalist identities. 36

History, historical narratives, and public school history textbooks are equally

contested. Whose history is taught in island schools? In the first half of the

twentieth century, history texts written by Puerto Rican scholars that proposed

an island-centered interpretation of history were denied distribution in colonial

schools. Those textbooks that were approved instead proposed a different interpretation

of history and Puerto Rico’s location within it. The commissioner of

education had the authority to approve “appropriate texts” for colonial public

schools. The approved textbook, Historia de Puerto Rico (1922), written by commissioner

of education Paul G. Miller, proposed a narrative that framed local history

as a model study of modern and benevolent US imperial practices. 37 Miller’s

textbook also dismissed the island’s history before the arrival of US forces as in -

significant and traditional while it minimized Puerto Rico’s particularly Carib -

bean history. The cultural nationalism of the 1950s, however, revolutionized the

history curriculum. 38 Historical narratives and the language of instruction remain

two markers of national identity that have had to be defended from US imperial

impositions and cultural contamination.

Introduction: Hacer patria 17

It is at this location in cultural-nationalist narratives that the history of Americanization

policies takes a central role. Fundamentally, the early history of

Americanization is one of the best examples that represent the dichotomous construction

of oppression and resistance, of us versus them, of colonialism versus

nationalism. History and language remain deeply connected to contemporary

debates about authenticity, identity, and nation. This suggests that a revision of

Americanization scholarship might appear—initially and at a superficial level—to

undermine the nationalist narrative built on notions of difference and cultural


Instead, I propose that a critical study of the “cultural politics” of colonial

schools in the first half of the twentieth century can help liberate that history from

rigid nationalist narrative constructions by allowing for a more well-rounded

understanding of how local actors chose to engage with colonial schools and, by

extension, the emerging colonial state. While fully aware of the power relations

between the colony and the metropole, I nevertheless suggest that teachers and

parents engaged colonial schools in a way that condemned racist Americanization

policies while contributing to and complementing a broader racial and

social uplift project. This collaboration, a negotiated process, reflected how intermediate

actors in the colonial hierarchy practiced the Puerto Rican political ideology

of autonomism rather than outright revolution or annexation. This daily

negotiation of local actors with the colonial state was carried out through local

schools. The colonial state project was dependent on the collaboration of teachers

and parents. It was not a simple transmission of top-down policies to the

middle (teachers) and from the middle to the bottom (parents and students).

Instead, the three sectors found ways to negotiate their interests and visions without

undermining the authority and framework of the colonial state. It is this

process of engagement and negotiation—best exemplified in colonial schools—

that led to the founding of a modern and reformed US colonial state in the Carib -

bean in the 1950s in the form of Puerto Rico’s Estado Libre Asociado (ELA, Free

Associated State). A revision of the history of Americanization, therefore, can

help us understand how intermediate actors contributed to the formation and

resilience of the modern colonial state.

A Puerto Rican Story: Sources and Arguments

What is the story beyond Americanization? That depends on historical sources.

Schools were at the heart of early twentieth-century debates about the successes,

failures, and intentions of the colonial state. Elites, professionals, teachers, and

parents were engaged in an ongoing conversation that evaluated the “progress” of

18 Introduction: Hacer patria

local society through the lens of schools and public instruction. These conversations

were recorded in different documentary sources. Not only was the vision

of the colonial state recorded in the annual reports, but, more significantly, it

became policy. The vision informed the drafting and approval of the new school

laws for Puerto Rico. This colonial legislation, discussed in chapter 1, represented

conversations held between US colonial educators who traveled and practiced

throughout the US empire. School legislation in Puerto Rico was part of a

broader vision for the incorporation of colonial peoples inside and outside the

borders of the US mainland, including the US South, Hawaii, the Philippines,

Native American communities, and the new immigrant communities throughout

the mainland.

The perspectives of local teachers, however, were also recorded in multiple

venues. As the historical body of scholarship produced by Rubén Maldonado

Jiménez best exemplifies, local teachers had shared their opinions, protests, and

agendas through the publication of education newspapers since the 1890s. 39 By

1919 teachers published regularly in the newspaper El Mundo. In addition, in collaboration

with the Department of Education, they published articles and speeches

in the education journal La revista escolar de Puerto Rico/Porto Rico School Review

(PRSR). As the visions of the department and teachers began increasingly to

move in different directions by the late 1920s and 1930s, sharing this journal

became highly contested. In addition, when teachers joined forces in an islandwide

labor union in 1911, they began to collect the minutes of their meetings,

which are today stored in the private archives of the Asociación de Maestros

de Puerto Rico (AMPR, Association of Teachers of Puerto Rico). Finally, teachers

from different generations published memoirs that told of their history and

practice in schools since the late nineteenth century. These important sources

document how generations of teachers held competing visions and perspectives

about the value of schools and instruction.

However, I am mindful that these sources provide the perspective of the elite

few, the leadership of the magisterio. The number of teachers grew from 1,623 in

1910, to 3,220 in 1920, and to 8,881 by 1946. 40 While I try to provide as many

competing voices of individual teachers as possible, I recognize that the opinions

most often found in primary sources were those of the teaching leadership, which

I refer to as “elite teachers” to distinguish them from the rest of the teaching class.

These are the sources that inform chapters 2, 3, and 4.

Parents and students were equally demanding of their rights before the colonial

state. In the 1940s, in particular, their voices are documented in the archives.

They wrote letters to the commissioner of education and to the senator and first

Introduction: Hacer patria 19

elected governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marín. Their letters expressed how

they defined the values of school and instruction for themselves, their families,

and their communities. Parents and students, additionally, were clear about their

expectations that the colonial state make schools accessible to all. They claimed

their rights, as members of Puerto Rican society, to public instruction. Chapter 5

highlights their demands and how they contributed to the process of negotiation

with what became the new, modern colonial state in Puerto Rico, the Estado

Libre Asociado. The story told in chapter 5, therefore, is important to the early

history of education and colonialism in Puerto Rico, for student and parent

voices boldly emerged and challenged the assumptions held by Puerto Rican

educators and US colonial administrators in prior decades. When their voices

become accessible in the archives, they proposed a dynamic understanding of the

relationship between citizenship, schools, and colonialism.

This combination of sources allows for the construction of multiple interconnected

narratives about schools, the colonial state, and teachers in the early

twentieth century. I offer three main lines of argument. First, schools were at the

heart of the colonial state project. In the first half of the twentieth century, the US

colonial state in Puerto Rico evolved through different stages: a military occupation

(1898–1900), a colonial civil government (the Foraker Act of 1900, the

Jones Act of 1917), and a modern colonial state under Puerto Rican leadership

(the ELA, formed in 1952). Each of these versions of the colonial state required

the collaboration of teachers through schools, for it was in the classroom that

colonial state ideologies were intended to be transmitted to and reproduced by

the next generation—children. Throughout the study I emphasize the centrality

of schools to the project of building the colonial state.

Second, teachers and educators proposed a citizenship-building project. Social

hierarchies that differentiated its members according to race, class, and gender

were already present and vibrant in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. Dominant

honor codes, the ideal gran familia puertorriqueña, the political vision of creole

liberal elites, and the social project of the professional classes shaped turn-of-thecentury

Puerto Rico. It was teachers, however, who, as intermediate actors,

claimed the right and the moral authority to create citizens in the early twentieth

century. Elite teachers, in particular, promoted a vision for regeneration, social

uplift, and progress that was informed by late nineteenth-century neo-Lamarckian

eugenic ideologies. The new schools founded under the US colonial state became

the venue through which elite teachers promoted their citizenship-building project.

Teachers negotiated the intentions of Americanization in a way that simultaneously

allowed for the promotion of their visions through schools.

20 Introduction: Hacer patria

However, definitions of citizenship were always dynamic. As the role of schools,

teaching demographics, and social context changed, so did the definition of citizenship.

While citizenship in the late 1910s and 1920s represented a balance

between Americanization and regeneration arguments, the framework changed

a decade later. Resistance against colonial repression of political ideologies

exploded in the 1930s. University students called for a reevaluation of the limits

of colonial forms of citizenship. By the 1940s parents and students had highlighted

the constructed and reciprocal relationship between colonial state and

citizen. Citizenship was a deeply contested concept, and teachers and others re -

defined its intentions according to changes in colonial society. Throughout the

process, however, what does not change is the centrality of schools and public

instruction to definitions of citizenship and the colonial state.

Third, with the intention of moving beyond the oppression/resistance dichot -

omy, I highlight the process of community building within the teaching profession,

which required the clear establishment of hierarchies and differences. While

the teaching leadership spoke in a united voice when they opposed the policies of

the commissioner of education, there were important divisions within the ranks.

The definition of progress, modernity, and gender was at the core of the debate.

How to train “modern girls”? How to regenerate the jíbaros? How to define the

limits of modern and progressive gender practices in secular, coeducational, public

schools? These questions informed the debates that emerged within the teaching

profession and reflected a reaction to the dynamic women’s social movement

of the 1910s and 1920s. Schools became a location where the gender politics of

citizenship-building ideologies could be clearly established.

These three lines of argument come together in the broader process of colonial

state formation. The history of schools in the early twentieth century suggests

that nonelite actors, like teachers and parents, were equally invested in shaping

the policies of colonial schools. They proposed their intentions to contribute to

the citizenship-building project. However, as they negotiated curriculum, teaching

appointments, funding, and access to schools, teachers and parents were contributing

to a negotiated process that led to the reproduction and consolidation

of a colonial state. Public schoolteachers were not revolutionaries. In the tradition

of middle-ground autonomist ideology, they found ways to work within the

boundaries of colonialism. This negotiation, however, was important and contributed

to the popular politics that supported and consolidated a Puerto Rican–

led colonial state by 1952. The US imperial visions of the early 1900s were never

truly foreign. They were malleable, complementary, and in conversation with the

legacy of Spanish colonialism, which generated the island’s colonial reformist

leadership. However, colonial reform was carried out not only by local political

Introduction: Hacer patria 21

leadership. As this story suggests, intermediate actors in the colonial hierarchy—

teachers—also shaped the political process.

Organization of the Book

I tell the story of the everyday interactions between teachers, parents, and US

colonial officials at the heart of the process of building the colonial state through

four historical moments. The first period, the 1890s to 1916, highlights early chal -

lenges to the expansion of US empire in Puerto Rico (chapter 1). At the turn of

the century, US imperial agents (American teachers and administrators) enthusiastically

embarked upon the new “white man’s burden” in the Caribbean. They

imagined the Caribbean colony to be a tabula rasa, an island of children with no

history and little experience with modern education and government. However,

they soon realized that the intellectual and political legacy of late nineteenthcentury

Puerto Rican teachers, educators, and intellectuals denied them the space

to unconditionally implement their vision of creating “tropical Yankees” (chapter

2). Teachers and educators composed a small but significant community of local

intellectuals. They challenged new US colonial school policies, which intended

to disenfranchise them and deny them their traditional patriarchal authority in the

training and molding of Puerto Rican children. These two chapters examine how

turn-of-the-century US imperial agents and Puerto Rican educators engaged each

other’s visions of modern education within the emerging US empire. This early

negotiation established the parameters that shaped the cultural politics of schools

throughout the first half of the century.

In the second period, 1917 to 1930, US imperial agents were driven by a

stronger urgency than ever before to promote Americanization. Puerto Ricans

were no longer colonial subjects. As the United States prepared to enter World

War I, in March 1917 the US Congress granted Puerto Ricans born on the island

US citizenship. The war consolidated Puerto Rico’s military value to the United

States in the Caribbean. However, this Americanization push was challenged by

a new generation of Puerto Rican teachers who emerged and united under the

newly founded AMPR. This labor union represented Puerto Rican educators’

visions for public schools. It was an institution that created the space in which to

formulate a citizenship-building project that had little to do with Americanization.

At this significant moment in the construction of a US colonial state in Puerto

Rico, intermediate actors (teachers) intervened, mitigated the harsh intentions of

US colonialism, and promoted a citizenship-building project.

Chapter 3 examines the teachers’ citizenship-building project and, particularly,

the multiple conflicts and contradictions (generational and gendered) that

22 Introduction: Hacer patria

emerged. Modern education and racial regeneration ideologies came together in

discussions over the potential transformative benefits of teaching home economics,

modern agriculture, and physical education. Teachers were optimistic that

they could “regenerate” and “whiten” the Puerto Rican national body through the

teaching of health, hygiene, and sanitation. They could transform the allegedly

physically weak and submissive Puerto Rican girls into modern and progressive

homemakers by teaching domestic science in schools and bringing that science

directly into homes through extension work. They intended to modernize male

jíbaros into efficient farmers through the teaching of scientific agriculture in rural

schools. They could strengthen the weakened national “race” through the teaching

of science, health, hygiene, and physical education. Finally, they could teach

literacy and civics with the intention of transforming illiterate students into wellrounded

citizens in the service of a potential Puerto Rican nation.

Teachers believed that by introducing the modern science that informed these

school topics to students and, by extension, their parents, they could directly

address the problems of the home, health, and labor and teach families modern

strategies for regeneration. It was this goal, the “racial regeneration” of the citizenry,

instead of traditional characterizations of Americanization, that Puerto

Rican teachers advocated in the late 1910s and 1920s. Nevertheless, the process of

defining and consolidating this citizenship-building project struggled to address

the newly emerging generational, gender, and class debates within this intermediate

sector of the colonial hierarchy.

The third moment was defined by local responses to the 1930s international

economic crisis, which brought to light the dire material conditions of the majority

of the working class. Collaboration between Puerto Rican colonial reformers,

public health professionals, and a new generation of modern educators emerged

as public schools became key sites through which communities received support

(nutrition), medical services, and job training. Americanization goals lost priority

as a new generation of Puerto Rican colonial reformers implemented economic

reconstruction policies. In turn, this experience consolidated the patriarchal role

of the colonial state through the public schools.

In the early twentieth century, however, the history of Puerto Ricans was not

restricted to the geographic boundaries of the island. Workers migrated throughout

the US empire in search of employment. The early Puerto Rican diaspora

became a lightning rod for debates over citizenship, race, and empire in the US

mainland. Chapter 4 follows Puerto Rican workers to the Northeast. Island-based

definitions of citizenship, race, and imperialism were always constructed in relationship

with debates on the mainland. This chapter examines how a 1935 psycho -

logical study of Puerto Rican children in a New York City public school generated

Introduction: Hacer patria 23

grave anxieties for US racial eugenicists and immigration restrictionists as well as

for Puerto Rican educators. Students, education, and schools were sites through

which many attempted to define citizenship, nation, race, and empire.

During the fourth period, the 1940s through the 1950s, a new generation of

Puerto Rican colonial reformers rose to power through the discourse and promises

of populism (chapter 5). Luis Muñoz Marín emerged as the charismatic leader

of the newly founded PPD. Muñoz Marín and the PPD gained the political support

of the working class as they ushered forward a new reformed colonial state—

the ELA. What was the relationship between citizen, colonial state, and schools

in the 1940s? This chapter highlights personal letters parents and students wrote

to Muñoz Marín in the late 1940s and early 1950s in which they appealed for

attention to their concerns about teachers and schools. They demonstrate how

the new political discourse of citizen and nation promoted by Muñoz Marín em -

powered Puerto Rican parents and students, who then used those concepts to

challenge the limitations of the newly founded colonial state. By the 1950s, when

Muñoz Marín’s administration brought to fruition the new Puerto Rican colonial

state, the ELA represented, I argue, the tradition of generations of teachers and

educators who daily negotiated and curbed the intentions of earlier versions of US

colonialism. The voices of students and parents in the 1940s highlight the centrality

of schools and education to the definition of citizen in the new, reformed,

modern colonial state of the 1950s.

The conclusion ties together the book’s narrative line—that the consolidation

of US colonialism in the Caribbean represents generations of negotiation between

intermediate actors and US imperial agents. I also examine how Puerto Rico contributes

to and challenges comparative Latin American and Caribbean historical

conversations about race, citizenship, and nation building.

chapter 1

The Politics of Empire,

Education, and Race

The spectacle of clashing political projects shaped the historical moment that

was turn-of-the-century Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican liberals in the late nineteenth

century successfully negotiated a reformed colonial relationship with the declining

Spanish empire. Spanish imperial authority in the Caribbean was deteriorating

as Puerto Rican liberal reformers and Cuban radical revolutionaries struggled

against an oppressive Spanish colonialism. Meanwhile, the expansionist United

States was emerging as a new imperial power in the Caribbean and the Pacific,

challenging the political projects of local elites within the colonies and the broader

Spanish imperial intentions in the regions. While Spanish and US imperial actors

battled each other for supremacy in the Caribbean, creole liberal reformers and

revolutionaries struggled to maintain their authority within each island’s political


The 1880s and 1890s were years of intense political activity in Puerto Rico.

Liberal reformers, reorganized into the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño

(Puerto Rican Autonomist Party) in 1887, demanded that the Spanish colonial

state redefine the relationship between empire and colony. Guided by the political

ideology of autonomism, liberal reformers called for greater local and municipal

control over the island’s political and economic affairs without fully rejecting

Spain’s political authority as empire. In response to the political pressure

of liberal reformers, the highest representative of Spanish colonial authority on

the island, the appointed governor, launched a campaign against the proponents

of liberal reform. Through the notorious Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), Governor

Romualdo Palacios persecuted those opposed to absolute Spanish authority.

Despite the repression, liberal reformers achieved their goals in 1897 when the


The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 25

queen of Spain granted Puerto Rico and Cuba a new constitution, the Carta

Autonómica (Autonomic Charter). This new constitution altered Spain’s relationship

to the Caribbean colonies. While Spain maintained sovereignty over

both colonies, it granted them the right to establish an insular government with

elected representatives. The Autonomic Charter, which was a Spanish reaction to

the political pressure of both Puerto Rican liberal reformers and Cuban revolutionaries,

fulfilled some basic tenets of autonomist ideology. The year 1898 began

with a new promise for autonomism, a political project that different sectors of

the creole elite nevertheless contested and redefined. 1

The liberal reformers’ political project, however, was quickly undermined by

the expansionist intentions of the United States. Since the 1850s, the political

and physical boundaries of the United States had been expanding west, spilling

across the Pacific Ocean. Beyond the territory of Hawaii, US imperial aggression

reached the Philippines. US imperial actors first challenged the Spanish colonial

government, then the Filipino “insurgency,” with the intention of acquiring the

archipelago. After the success of the US military in Manila, US imperial intentions

turned to Cuba. The US intervention in the 1895 Cuban War of Independence

became the “Spanish-American” War of 1898. Before negotiating the

Treaty of Paris with Spain, the US military invaded its number two target in the

Caribbean, Puerto Rico. At the end of the “splendid little war,” the United States

and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris on December 19, 1898. The treaty called

an end to the war between the two empires and ceded Puerto Rico, Cuba, and

other Spanish territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific to the United States.

The treaty also provided the legal foundation for the new US military occupation

of Puerto Rico. For eighteen months the United States maintained a military

occupation of the island. On April 12, 1900, the US Congress approved a new

civil government for Puerto Rico with the Foraker Act. The founding of the

new civil government confirmed what several Puerto Rican liberal reformers

feared. Through the act and the judicial clarification of the 1901–4 “Insular

Cases,” the island was defined as an unincorporated territory of the United States.

The Foraker Act consolidated US imperial intentions to retain the island as a

“permanent colony.” 2

The United States entertained several objectives for Puerto Rico. For some

Americans, the island held the promise of economic profit. They imagined Puerto

Rico to be ripe for economic investment and agricultural production, a source

of cheap labor, and a ready market for US exports. The political project of US

empire in Puerto Rico, however, was not clearly defined. Some in the mainland

were opposed to US expansion and acquisition of colonial territories, convinced

it went against the basic tenets of a liberal democracy. Others, informed by a

26 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

strong sense of white supremacy and the Anglo-Saxon right to govern over

those defined as “inferior peoples,” imagined other opportunities in Puerto Rico.

Within this range, Americans disagreed over the political projects to pursue in

the new permanent colony. Some had faith that Puerto Ricans (at least the elite)

were intelligent and demonstrated a capacity for self-government. Others questioned

whether, despite requiring the elite to undergo a period of apprenticeship

under the tutelage of US colonial officials, Puerto Ricans were capable of overcoming

the intellectual and moral deficiencies assumed to shape non-Anglo-

Saxon peoples. 3

These early questions about how to rule the colonial territories, however, were

clarified through US imperial practices in the first decade of the twentieth century.

US colonial officials in the Caribbean and the Pacific drew clear distinctions

between the new US territories. The ideology of Anglo-Saxon supremacy and

the US colonial officials’ assessments of the new colonial subjects informed how

each territory was imagined to be incorporated into the US empire. Through the

constitutional debates over the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court defined the new

colonial territories’ location. Once Puerto Rico was defined as an unincorporated

territory and assumed to maintain a permanent relationship to the US empire,

US colonial officials were charged with the responsibility to “Americanize” the

island and its people. 4

Americanization had multiple meanings and intentions. Under the Foraker

Act, the island’s economy and productive capacity were reorganized in the interests

of US corporations. Puerto Rico, along with Cuba and the Dominican

Republic, became a prominent site of America’s “sugar kingdom.” 5 Politically, the

new civil government established a framework that located US colonial officials

in positions of authority over local political leaders. The intention to Americanize

politics meant rearranging the political organization and structure of the

island government to more neatly correspond to the centralized authority of

the United States, whether the US-appointed governor of Puerto Rico or the US

president. Although some liberal reformers were initially hopeful that an association

with the United States might lead to the fulfillment of their autonomist

political project, many were disillusioned by the Foraker Act and its clear colonial

intentions. Nevertheless, in the first decade, Puerto Rican liberal reformers

(Republicanos and Federales) demanded recognition from the US colonial officials

as the rightful political representatives of the island and its people. 6

Under the banner of “benevolent empire,” Americanization also suggested in -

vestment in the health and social welfare of the working class. US colonial officials

collaborated with select Puerto Rican professionals to reorganize civil services

such as public health, sanitation, and education. 7 The broad goal of Americanizing

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 27

colonial subjects through education was a core policy of the self-defined modern,

civilizing, and benevolent US empire. Broadly, Americanization through education

meant the creation of “tropical Yankees,” or the creation of colonial subjects

who supported US colonialism on the island. 8 Visions for the Americanization

of Puerto Ricans, in particular, were shaped by US colonial officials’ understanding

of imperial practices and racial ideologies. Americanization was more than

replacing Spanish as the language of instruction with English. It suggested the

uplift and transformation of a Spanish colonial people into members of the

modern US empire. Historical actors demonstrate, nevertheless, that in this early

historical period (1898–1917), the relationship between Americanization and

education was in flux. The multiple actors (Puerto Rican and American) invested

in the success of public schools challenged, redefined, and contested the definition

of Americanization. Colonial schools became an important and highly contested

site for Americanization in Puerto Rico, where competing agendas and

political projects were carried out.

Expanding the existing public school system was an overwhelming challenge

for the young US colonial government. Many Americans have been celebrated

for their contribution to the early colonial school project. However, while elite

colonial officials (such as Brig. Gen. Guy V. Henry, Gen. John Eaton, and Head

of the Bureau of Education Victor S. Clark) played influential roles, they were

guided, informed, and assisted by a core of elite Puerto Rican professionals and

educators. For example, some of the first supervisors of the six newly established

school districts in 1900 included local intellectuals, educators, and politicians

such as José A. Saldaña, Robert H. Todd, Jorge Bird Arias, Enrique Huyke, and

Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón. 9 In addition, many “intermediate” historical actors

contributed equally to the founding and expansion of the colonial school system,

including thousands of Puerto Rican schoolteachers as well as active parents

and students. Together these historical actors informed the debates that guided

the formation of new schools. Each contributed to the process of defining the

goals of Americanization and education. Despite US colonial intentions, Americanization

through schools was never defined and imposed from the top down.

Instead, it was negotiated by intermediate groups and the working class. The story

of how local actors shaped the founding and direction of the colonial school project

begins in chapter 2.

Our first step in the analysis of the negotiation of colonial state building

through local school projects is an introduction to the turn-of-the-century

moment. This chapter presents a brief history of Spanish colonialism and education

in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. Local elites were aware of the Spanish

colonial state’s negligence toward universal education. The state of schools and

28 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

education, however, became one of multiple arguments US colonial officials used

to justify their intervention and occupation. US colonial officials celebrated their

version of tutelary colonialism as modern and progressive and, therefore, deeply

distinct from the practices of the Spanish empire. US visions for colonial education,

at the same time, were deeply informed by racial ideologies and hierarchies.

This chapter examines the ways US historical actors imagined the new relationship

between education and empire in the early years of encounter. The 1898

war, the expansion of the US empire into the Caribbean and the Pacific, and the

newly defined “permanent” relationship between Puerto Rico and the United

States forced insular and imperial political projects into conversation. In this

early moment of encounter, US colonial officials established their authority over

colonial schools. Americans launched themselves as the new imperial authority,

centered public instruction at the heart of the emerging imperial venture, and

highlighted the permanency of Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States. Education

was at the heart of an imperial project informed by US racial ideologies.

Colonialism and Education in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

The actions of slaves and African-descended peoples in the French Caribbean

in the late eighteenth century deeply transformed the direction of Caribbean and

Atlantic history. In addition to the North Atlantic revolutions in the United States

and France, freed and enslaved Guadeloupian and Saint Dominguean practices

in the 1790s radicalized the liberal ideologies of the Age of Revolution. 10 By the

1820s, driven by economic and political motivations, most Spanish colonies in

the Américas had broken away from the Spanish empire. Elite creoles and subaltern

groups wrought fragile and tense, yet effective, alliances. Together they

fought for national independence. 11

The liberal ideologies and practices traveling throughout the Caribbean in

the early nineteenth century, however, did not lead to revolution in Puerto Rico

or Cuba. Instead, these islands became the two remaining colonies, and royalist

strongholds, of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. At the same time, the

wounded and declining Spanish empire clung to Puerto Rico and Cuba. Both

island colonies became a relative asylum for the remaining conservative royalists

in the region. Supporters of Spanish colonialism, in the face of widespread revolutionary

forces in Latin America, took refuge on the islands.

In the early nineteenth century, in response to Latin American revolutionary

movements and the pressure of Puerto Rican and Cuban creole leadership, the

Spanish crown, with the intention to retain the two colonies, provided reformed

colonial legislation. Reformist liberal economic policies, like the 1815 Cédula de

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 29

Gracias (Decree of pardon), generated economic incentives (land, tax, and trade),

facilitated the importation of African slaves into the colonies, and helped create

the environment required to revolutionize export-commodity production. In

the first half of the nineteenth century, Cuba and Puerto Rico, along with Brazil,

became leading sugar exporters, promptly replacing Saint Domingue’s sugar supply

to the Atlantic markets. 12

In addition, the island of Puerto Rico witnessed a dramatic demographic

change in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Cédula and the economic

opportunities it generated attracted a variety of immigrants into the small island.

Wealthy immigrants from Europe, the neighboring Caribbean islands, and the

United States brought their capital, slaves, and knowledge about the production

of sugar and coffee. Significantly, Caribbean laborers also came in large numbers.

Workers came alone and with their families, providing the highly valued skilled

trades required in the developing economy. 13 In 1802 the island’s population

was a mere 160,892, the majority of whom were African-descended peoples. Out

of these residents, 15.3 percent were enumerated as slaves, 40 percent as free colored,

and 44.6 percent as white. A generation later, the population had doubled.

By 1830, out of 324,838 residents, 10.6 percent were enumerated as slaves, 39.3

percent as free colored, and 50.1 percent as white. 14

By midcentury, Puerto Rico’s economy had undergone important transitions.

The abolition of the slave trade, competition with beet sugar producers, and the

gradual emancipation of slaves by 1873 undermined the profitability of sugar

production and export. As sugar declined, the coffee highlands became the center

of economic and demographic growth. Coffee production in the central and

western mountains transformed communities. Free laborers, escaping labor conditions

on sugar plantations or seeking employment on coffee farms, moved into

the region. However, the experience for coffee workers and small landowners in

the late nineteenth century was hardly bountiful. The working conditions, diseases,

and loss of land led to the steady impoverishment of coffee labor throughout

the late nineteenth century. 15

Meanwhile, Spanish immigrants, recruited by extended family members, came

to the highlands, generated wealth as merchants and large landowners, and re -

turned with their profits to their country of origin. These were years when creole

Puerto Rican identities were emerging and local elites began asserting their rights

against the privileged peninsulares. Creoles defined and advocated for the political

ideologies of separatism or colonial reform. Wealthier Spanish immigrants

faced great resentment on behalf of separatist creole elites. In addition, the increas -

ingly indebted creole coffee farmers wanted change in the economic structure,

which favored Spanish immigrants. Together, these economic conditions, along

30 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

with the revolutionary ideology of separatists like Ramón Emeterio Betances, led

to the 1868 Grito de Lares (Cry of Lares), an important anti-colonial revolutionary

movement. 16

The Spanish colonial government, however, intolerant of anticolonial activity,

put down the rebellion. After the revolution, due to repression, persecution,

and exile of political separatists, colonial reform (autonomism) became the dominant

political ideology of the late nineteenth century. Autonomism, however,

represented a range of platforms and intentions (radical autonomism versus

assimilation). It was not a homogeneous political ideology, and liberal autonomists

like Román Baldorioty de Castro and José Julián Acosta, in their intention

to generate a new colonial relationship with the Spanish empire, faced intense

repression by the Spanish colonial government on the island. 17

Historians of nineteenth-century Puerto Rico have carefully delineated the

ways colonial liberal society was organized through hierarchies of race, class, and

gender. 18 One organizing concept in particular, the gran familia puertorriqueña

(the great Puerto Rican family), was emblematic of the hierarchies. Similar to

Sandra Lauderdale Graham’s conceptualization of the household and the “house

and street” in colonial Brazil, the image of the gran familia extended the familial

organizational structure to the rest of society. 19 The gran familia organized colonial

society under patriarchal authority. The male head of household held the authority

over his subalterns, including his wife, children, and employed or enslaved

laborers. Local, regional, islandwide, and imperial politics were intended to be

carried out between elite male heads of households. Nevertheless, nonelite white

males and nonwhite males also jockeyed for voice and influence. And, although

the organizational structure required the subordination of women in public and

private spaces, women of all classes asserted their views and ideologies. Bourgeois

women asserted authority over plebeian women. Meanwhile, plebeian women

fought for their honor and demanded that their partners fulfill their duties to wife

and children, as court records attest. Although the development of race, class, and

gender ideologies was specific to regions and labor relations, white creole male

privilege was reproduced through the organizing principle of the gran familia. 20

Although patriarchy was one organizing framework of the late nineteenth century,

subaltern men and women challenged its authority. Liberal society in the

nineteenth century, the heads of the gran familia in particular, was concerned with

the great “social question” of labor. Puerto Rico was an exporter of agricultural

commodities dependent on the labor of slaves and the peasantry. Planters struggled

to control the labor of the free and independent peasantry through vagrancy

laws, such as the Reglamento de Jornaleros of 1849. Meanwhile, the control and

wealth of elite Puerto Ricans were undermined with the emancipation of slavery

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 31

in 1873. In the late nineteenth century, the peasantry challenged the restrictive

regulations of the Reglamento, while the recently emancipated intensely negotiated

their labor contracts, their right to work, their mobility, and the terms of

their wages. 21

Although the elite represented a small but powerful minority on the island,

the majority of residents, in fact, were workers—men and women who contrib -

uted their labor to the production of agricultural commodities and all their complementary

demands. There were important divisions within the working group

between skilled artisans, semiskilled laborers, and unskilled workers. Standards

of living also varied between urban and rural workers. Some rural workers owned

small plots of land or worked and resided on a small plot of their boss’s land in

exchange for labor and crops. This majority nonelite population was also of diverse

racial heritage. Many had early origins on the island. They were descendants of

African slaves, European masters and workers, and other Caribbean peoples who

had settled on the island over the centuries. The nineteenth-century population,

however, grew rapidly. By the end of the century, many were descendants of

recent nineteenth-century Caribbean immigrants, also of African heritage, who

made the island their home. 22

However, creole intellectuals—who were articulating emerging Puerto Rican

identities, celebrating coffee creole culture, and writing essays and pamphlets de -

scribing the conditions of the working class in the late nineteenth century—found

little promise for progress when they looked at the majority nonelite population.

Intellectuals like Manuel Alonso, author of El gíbaro (The peasant) (1849), did

not celebrate the assertiveness of recently freed laborers who established the

terms of their labor contracts by defending their mobility, or the stubbornly independent

peasants who refused to be tied down to another’s land, or the domestic

servants who brought their own children into the kitchens and homes of

the patrones. 23 Instead, intellectuals penned their concerns about how to build

a modern and progressive community of citizens (or, rather, potentially equal

subjects as a province in the reformed Spanish empire) out of this working class.

When elites turned their attention to the people, they saw obstacles to progress.

One of the leading pseudoscientific racial ideologies in Latin America and the

Caribbean provided an explanation for the poverty of the nonelite. The logic was

neo-Lamarckian eugenics. This desolate and pessimistic interpretation of the

limits of the island’s majority nonelite population was medicalized in the writings

of late nineteenth-century intellectuals like Manuel Zeno Gandía. 24 It was

in the medical discussions and debates, in the tradition of Latin American and

Caribbean interpretations of eugenics, that intellectuals imagined a positive re -

formulation. 25 Neo-Lamarckian eugenics allowed for the suggestion that through

32 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

the sanitation of public spaces and the hygiene of the individual, the working

classes could be reformed. Young girls could become healthy, strong, moral

homemakers. Boys could grow into masculine, responsible fathers and husbands.

This social interpretation of eugenics imagined that society could be improved

through reform and education. It was an ideology that allowed liberal reformers

to imagine the regeneration of the working class, for improving the health of the

“race” could also lead to a more obedient and productive labor force. This social

vision for the regeneration of the nonelite, articulated by the elite in the late nineteenth

century, would inform and be appropriated by intermediate actors in the

colonial society of the early twentieth century, particularly educators.

This progressive vision for improved sanitation and hygiene of the working

class via education, however, also reflected the very real negligence toward public

education on the island. Providing colonial peoples access to public education

was not a priority of the Spanish colonial state in the nineteenth century. In fact,

universal public education was not something the Spanish state provided in the

metropole. Instead, through legislative projects such as the Decreto Orgánico

of 1865, the Spanish colonial state allowed for the founding of a small number of

schools organized around a Catholic education. The schools intended to address

the elementary training of male children of elite families in urban centers, although

a smaller number of young girls also acquired an education. In 1898 there were

501 elementary schools and 26 secondary institutions. Of these, 384 were schools

for boys and 117 for girls. 26 Out of a population of 953,243, only 47,861 children

attended school. 27 The colonial central government, the Diputación Provincial,

approved teacher licenses. Municipalities, meanwhile, paid teacher salaries and

rented rooms or buildings for classroom use. The two main private universities

were the Seminario Conciliar (Seminary) (a Jesuit school) and the Instituto Civil

de Segunda Enseñanza (Civil Institute of Secondary Education). A leading advocate

for university training, especially in the sciences, was Rufo Manuel Fernández,

known as Padre Rufo.

Historians of nineteenth-century Puerto Rico, like Cayetano Coll y Toste

and Salvador Brau, however, have documented that some of the nonelite gained

access to private education. 28 Private individuals, men and women, taught small

groups of young children literacy and other subjects in their homes. Private teach -

ers, like Rafael Cordero and his sister Celestina Cordero, founded private schools

in homes and workshops in San Juan. These private teachers, most in urban areas,

were funded by small donations made by parents of the children they taught in

the form of either cash or material goods. And some, like maestro Rafael, supplemented

their income as artisans. Significantly, Rafael and Celestina were also

of African descent. Brau has documented that while teachers employed by the

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 33

Spanish colonial state were often peninsulares, independent teachers who taught

in private schools were men and women of African descent. 29

In addition, as historian Fernando Picó argued, while access to schools and

education in Puerto Rico was restricted to the elite in the nineteenth century,

the working class acquired their education in the fields, factories, and kitchens.

Nineteenth-century schools privileged boys and the elite and reproduced clear

class and racial differences in Puerto Rican society. Picó concluded:

The school system, far from guaranteeing equal opportunities to all, erected sharp

divisions between those who could gain access to employment in commerce,

municipal bureaucracies, printing presses, and more skilled occupations . . . and

those who were condemned to swing an ax and a hoe, to bend under the sun of

the sugar plantations, or to serve a life sentence in a humid coffee plantation. Two

different types of instruction, schooling and the school of life, two cultures, one

increasingly refined and European, the other ever more dehumanizing and disenfranchised,

two ways of life, two experiences with public health, two types of

citizens before an electoral system, the landlord and the landless, those who lived

long enough to meet their grandchildren and those who died and left children to be

distributed among godparents. 30

The creole elite’s vision for the regeneration of the working class, informed by

racist, classist, and gendered hierarchies of late nineteenth-century liberalism,

was also a critique of the long-standing neglect for public education that the

Spanish colonial administration practiced in Puerto Rico. While the children of

the elite were privy to an education, it was less accessible to young girls. Although

private instructors tutored small groups of children in their urban homes and

workshops, the majority of the working class found itself without those resources.

Instead, the children of laborers worked alongside their parents in coffee, tobacco,

or sugarcane plantations and workshops or in domestic service in the home. The

creole elite’s embrace of neo-Lamarckian promises for the regeneration of Puerto

Rico’s nonelite classes, therefore, reflected the conditions they witnessed in the

working class, material conditions that also attested to Spanish colonial policies

toward education.

US Empire, Education, and Race

Scholars of US empire have provided narratives of national consolidation and

imperial expansion informed by the economics, politics, and racial ideologies of

the turn of the century. The United States proudly joined European nations as a

34 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

modern empire in 1898. Through a show of US naval power in the Pacific and

the Caribbean, the United States invaded and engaged in war in the Philippines

and abruptly intervened in the Cuban War of Independence. The expansion of

US empire overseas, the violent engagement in war with local peoples and the

declining Spanish empire, and the acquisition of island territories officially designated

the United States as a member of the community of modern empires in the

late nineteenth century. 31

Historians have examined the economic and political reasons the United States

spilled outside of its borders into the Pacific and the Caribbean. At the turn of

the century, the United States was engaged in two different but complementary

processes: national consolidation and empire building. As it acquired territories

west of the Mississippi, the government put them on one of two paths. Some territories

were intended to join the United States, or to be “incorporated.” Others

were held as “unincorporated” territories, as colonies of the empire. The decision

whether a territory was to be incorporated or not was not dependent on its location.

Alaska and Hawaii, separated from the mainland by land and sea, became

states. The decision, rather, was partly informed by how US officials imagined

the cultural differences between the colonies. The racial Others of Puerto Rico,

Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines were never imagined to “fit” into the nation. 32

Universal education was at the core of both national consolidation and empire

building. Liberal government officials and educators imagined that education

was an important path through which to create “Americans.” There were varied

groups/classes that could benefit from education—or instruction in government,

civilization, and industry. At the same time, there were multiple types of school

projects to meet different intentions. There was no universal ideology about public

schools that was applied to different classes/groups without distinction. In

fact, the nineteenth-century US common school, imagined to be available for

all students, explicitly denied access to African Americans. 33 Public education

policies reflected the racial, class, and gender hierarchies of US society in the

late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In other words, public education

was imagined to be a tool through which to include and exclude groups from the

polity while demarcating everyone’s appropriate “place” within that polity. The

new colonial peoples of the “imperial archipelago” joined the broader community

of inferiors—women, children, working-class whites, eastern European immi -

grants, African Americans, Native Americans—who could be trained to fulfill

their class, gender, and racial location within US society. 34

Why “imagined”? I mean to acknowledge the distinction between educators’

intentions from the practice of teachers and the reception of students. The

historiography of Native American education is a case in point. In 1889 US

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 35

Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas J. Morgan outlined the intentions and

objectives of Native American boarding schools in his “Supplemental Report on

Indian Education.” 35 Some historians, like David Wallace Adams in Education for

Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928, have

masterfully examined how the government’s intention to assimilate Native Amer -

icans required the annihilation of traditional languages, cultures, and values. 36

More recently, some scholars have focused on specific schools, collecting letters

and oral testimony of schoolchildren. The new scholarship argues that despite

the explicit intentions of cultural genocide, resilient native children were able to

resist violent and malicious assimilation practices. As individuals and in groups,

they reconstituted community in the hostile environment of boarding schools.

Indeed, as adults, some have become leaders in the reconstitution of tribal identities,

languages, and practices. K. Tsianina Lomawaima’s They Called It Prairie

Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School proposes that historical perspective. 37

Education is at the center of the study of empire in the way that it ties together

national and imperial visions. Through no other example is the interconnectedness

between nation and empire more evident. The story of Richard Armstrong

and Samuel Chapman Armstrong highlights this relationship. While scholars have

documented how US goods and values were exported from the mainland to its

colonies, the Armstrong family history suggests that national projects were in -

formed by imported colonial examples. In the late nineteenth century, two twin

school projects emerged in the United States. One was the founding of African

American vocational institutes, for example, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial

Institute in 1881, pioneered by the leading black intellectual Booker T. Washington.

The second was the government-sponsored Native American boarding

schools founded on Native reservations, with the exception of nonreservation

boarding schools, for example, the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania and the Chil -

occo Indian School in Oklahoma.

A model school for both Tuskegee and Native American boarding schools,

however, was the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, founded in 1868.

The Hampton School, originally founded with the intention to educate African

Americans, eventually also admitted Native American students. The Hampton

School provided an industrial education curriculum. Its founder, Samuel Chapman

Armstrong, was informed by the vision that African Americans and Native

Americans, through rigorous schooling, could shed their “backward” traditions

and values and be transformed into second-class citizens, productive and skilled

in industry, contributors to the community.

It is significant that Samuel modeled his curriculum and objectives after his

parents’ example in Hawaii, specifically, after the manual training program at the

36 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

Hilo boarding school. 38 Samuel’s parents, Richard Armstrong and Clarissa Chapman,

were US Baptist missionaries “who spent their lives working and proselytizing

among the people of Hawaii.” Richard founded “vocational and agricultural

education in the island kingdom and played a foundational role in the Americanization

of Hawaii.” 39 The formation of racialized school projects for nonwhite

peoples on the US mainland and in the island colonies, dating to the earlier

nineteenth-century example of Hawaii, was interconnected.

While as students of US empire, race, and education we must acknowledge

that the twin processes of national consolidation and empire building were interconnected,

and while we can identify the individuals, institutions, and policies

that wove the school projects together, we must not homogenize them. Lanny

Thompson reminds us that while US policy makers were clearly informed by a

sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority and felt justified in expansion and occupation

at the behest of Manifest Destiny, colonial peoples were not racially homogenized

as the singular Other. Rather, US policy makers narrated differences in

the racial construction of colonial others in the Caribbean and the Pacific. These

different racial constructions, which were deeply classed and gendered, informed

individual policy governance for each colony. For example, while the alleged amicable,

friendly, and receptive “Porto Ricans” could be governed perpetually as

members of an unincorporated colony, the wildly diverse and multiethnic brown

and black tribal Filipinos could not.

Along the same lines, I argue that while US school projects across the imperial

archipelago and within the US mainland were informed by the racist ideologies

of Anglo-Saxon supremacy and Protestant missionary and civilizing visions, they

were always specific to both imperial intentions and local conditions. Therefore,

the intention to Americanize Puerto Ricans, first into colonial subjects and then

into second-class citizens after 1917, was similar to but different from the vocational

instruction promoted in the Philippines and in Native American boarding

schools. They were all informed by the glorification of Anglo-Saxon white

supremacist visions yet were tempered by the demands and conditions of local

communities as well as by the larger intention of US policy makers for that

colony or people.

The January 25, 1899, issue of Puck magazine published a cartoon titled

“School Begins.” In it, illustrator Louis Dalrymple caricatured the relationship

between empire and civilization through the metaphor of education. The classroom

was emblematic of both national consolidation and empire building. It

was a site through which Uncle Sam could tutor and educate all members of

his empire, including colonial and national populations. In the classroom, Uncle

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 37

Sam could instruct colonial peoples and US-based nonwhites whose progress

demanded lessons in civilization.

Dalrymple’s cartoon depicts a classroom where Uncle Sam stands authoritatively

at the front of the class. As the adult in a room of inferiors, he physically

towers over all others, displaying a menacing authority. Uncle Sam stands behind

a large desk, which represents power and knowledge. Atop the desk is a book

titled U.S. First Lessons in Self-Government. Underneath the book is a list of newly

acquired territories. A globe of the world, representing the unlimited imperial

potential for Uncle Sam, rests next to the desk. Uncle Sam has frightened the students

in the front row. They appear to cower and react to his aggressive posturing.

In turn, Uncle Sam has advised the students in “his new class in civilization”:

“Now, children, you’ve got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But

just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that in a little while, you

will be as glad to be here as they are!” The new colonial peoples, he suggests, had

no choice about whether or not to join the empire and be ruled by Uncle Sam.

His declaration has also erased any history of resistance on behalf of the residents

of the incorporated territories.

The spatial organization of the students inside and outside the classroom corresponds

to their contemporary location in the nation and empire. The cartoon

depicts five groups of students representing an evolutionary cycle of governance:

“School Begins,” January 1898.

38 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

the states of the Union, territories on the path toward statehood (defined as

incorporated in 1901), overseas colonial territories, US-based nonwhite peoples

(African Americans and Native Americans), and the excluded category of Chinese

Americans. The student representations illustrate how well they had acquired

Uncle Sam’s lessons in civilization.

Isolated from the main classroom and hidden behind the US flag is an audience

of students who represent the contemporary United States. Their features

are not distinctive. However, on the wall above them is a reminder of the lesson

they have learned about government and consent: “The Confederate States re -

fused their consent to be governed. But the union was preserved without their

consent.” National consolidation was a priority of the federal government, one

that it defended at any cost, including civil war.

Separated from the states and the colonies are the younger states of California

and Texas, the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, and the District of Alaska.

They are depicted as attentive, self-regulated, disciplined students. Well dressed

and groomed young ladies and gentlemen, they independently attend to their lessons.

They have already been set on the correct path and appear to require little

additional attention or oversight from Uncle Sam. The incorporated territories,

in addition to gender differences, also reflect racial distinction. Alaska is represented

by a darker-skinned student who is attentive and learning her lessons in

the tradition of the other incorporated territories. The students sit in front of

the second lesson for the classroom. The chalkboard reads: “The consent of the

governed is a good thing in theory, but very rare in fact. England has governed her

colonies whether they consented or not. By not waiting for their consent, she has

greatly advanced the world’s civilization. The U.S. must govern its new territories

with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.” The modern

British method of ruling colonies was the model example for some US policy

makers who debated the constitutionality of governing colonies.

The rest of the students, located at the margins of the core of the incorporated,

represent greater challenges for Uncle Sam. Centered in the cartoon, the four colo -

nies sit together in the front row of the classroom. Unlike the students representing

incorporated territories, who sit in individual desks, the colonies share the

same bench. They are all starting their education in civilization from the same

location. They seem to be the ones whom Uncle Sam is particularly concerned

about. They require the most attention and, according to Uncle Sam’s posture,

the most discipline. These students represent nonwhite colonial peoples and are

drawn with brown and black skin. Unlike the healthy and fit incorporated territories,

they are plump and short, and they appear uncomfortable in their clothing

and on their school bench. They are not children but rather a Lilliputian version

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 39

of men. Their facial and body features are not gender neutral, although they are

somewhat ambiguous. Yet they contrast sharply with the distinct gender differences

depicted in the idealized incorporated territories.

The Philippines are represented by a young man who sports a short black

afro and wears a long skirt. He grimaces at the sight of Uncle Sam wielding the

teacher’s pointer. Hawaii, meanwhile, is represented as a man with straight black

hair loosely kept in place by a headband. Hawaii wears a long dress and is barefoot,

with gold anklets on both feet. Hawaii is also frightened but, with arms

crossed, seems to challenge Uncle Sam. The difference between the representation

of Hawaii and the incorporated territories, even the dark-skinned one of

Alaska, is great. The illustrator may have questioned Hawaii’s future. He does

not imply that Hawaii could easily join the students in the back of the classroom.

Puerto Rico is represented as a small black man with unruly hair and silver rings

in his ears. Although he wears long pants, he is clearly afraid of Uncle Sam. He

seems to cower and lean toward Cuba for safety and protection. Cuba is represented

as a young black man with curly black hair worn pulled back. Cuba is the

most defiant. His expression is not of fear but rather disappointment. He clasps

his arms at his waist and seems to observe Uncle Sam with displeasure.

At the margins of the brown and black colonial students and the incorporated

territories are other individuals representing African Americans, Native Americans,

and Asian Americans. They stand between the states and the territories, signifying

how they are outside the imagined core of the US polity. They are also

physically segregated from those receiving academic lessons. A young black man,

representing African Americans, is not privy to academic instruction. He is physically

separated from the other children, working behind Uncle Sam. On a step -

ladder with a bucket and holding a rag, he cleans the classroom window. As he

does so, however, he attentively observes the entire scene, aware of Uncle Sam’s

threats to the colonies. Maybe a critique of the goals of African American industrial

and vocational schools, this student representation suggests that black children

were privy to an education that trained them for a subservient occupational

position within US society. They represent labor. Located in the left corner of

the classroom, outside the interest and attention of Uncle Sam, this student has

been left behind. There is no intention to allow him access to the academic and

civic lessons that were required for US citizenship. While allowed inside the

classroom, he is situated outside the polity.

A Native American student sits alone by the classroom door, far away from the

other students. He is wrapped in a blanket, wearing feathers on a headband. He

is so unfamiliar with the markers of civilization—literacy and education—that

he is unaware that he holds the lesson book upside down. This image represents

40 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

the segregation of Native American children into government-sponsored boarding

schools. The challenge for educators was the complete transformation of the

Native student. The education of Native Americans was not just about teaching

literacy; instead, it offered lessons in civilization, religion, and loyalty to the United

States. The illustrator implies an ambiguity about the intention of educating Native

children, for the cartoon does not suggest that they will join other students as full

members in the classroom; instead, they remain at the margins.

Completely outside the classroom is a Chinese American student, representing

Asian Americans. While the Native American student barely makes it inside

the classroom, the Chinese student is explicitly excluded. He seems to want to

join the others, having brought his own book, and he is looking in through the

doorway. Although he has come prepared to participate in the classroom on civilization,

he finds that he has been denied access. The location of the Chinese student

represents the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was extended for ten

years in 1892 as the Geary Act. He is the least likely of all the students to be set

on the path of citizenship and incorporation. Finally, the cartoon is missing one

colonial student—Guam. Imperial legislation records, Lanny Thompson argues,

conceptualized Guam as a military outpost. At most it was a refueling station for

the US Navy on an island inhabited by an allegedly insignificant and unimportant

group of natives. 40 In the cartoon they are erased as consequential students of

US empire.

“School Begins” brings together all of Uncle Sam’s students, all members of

the US nation and empire. The states, the incorporated territories, US nonwhites,

the excluded immigrant, the new colonies, and the disappeared are represented

in the classroom. Empire building was modeled after the British and imagined to

require the tutoring of colonial peoples in the values and requirements of US government.

Some students required more education than others or different types

of school projects. Nonetheless, they all required, including the states, control by

the central government (Uncle Sam) and continuous education in civilization.

Representations of racial difference and “otherness” suggested the potential for

evolution, assimilation, and the capability of being governed. Empire building was

closely linked to education and schools, for colonial peoples, above all, required

lessons from Uncle Sam in civilization and government.

Unlike “School Begins,” a second cartoon, published as the cover of Harper’s

Weekly, was careful to make distinctions between the colonies, distinctions that

suggested each one’s progress toward self-government. “Uncle Sam’s New Class

in the Art of Self-Government” was published on August 27, 1898, just six months

after the US Congress declared war against Spain. Six months before the end of

war, the cartoonist was already depicting US assessments of and intentions for

“Uncle Sam’s New Class in the Art of Self-Government,” August 1898.

42 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

the new possessions. Like the first cartoon, “Uncle Sam’s New Class” also locates

Uncle Sam as the authoritative teacher in the classroom, standing behind the

desk, waving his stick. On the back wall of the classroom is a large map of the

world. The map of the United States is centered in a way that allows for a full view

of its new Atlantic possessions. The Philippines, Hawaii, and Alaska are marked

on the map with US flags, as are Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

In the classroom, Emilio Aguinaldo—the anti-Spanish revolutionary leader and

president of the Philippines—is depicted as a surly young man, dark-skinned,

wearing a dunce cap, made to stand on a stool in the corner. In the front row,

the illustrator has depicted two versions of Cubans. One is an older white (Latin)

man, likely the famed general of the Cuban War of Independence, Máximo

Gómez. He is quietly reading his book, undisturbed and uninterested in the

fighting taking place right next to him. For sharing the front bench with Gómez

are too additional Cubans—a “guerilla” and an “ex-patriot”—engaged in a fight,

fists in the air, books flying. Dark-skinned, barefoot, wearing simple and frayed

country clothes, the two seem oblivious to Uncle Sam’s stick tapping them on

the head. Cuba and the Philippines are juxtaposed to the more docile colonies,

Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The islands are represented as two young ladies, beautifully

clad in long dresses, crowned in flowers, joyfully reading their lessons. They

appear pleasantly engaged in the reading, completely oblivious to the unruly ways

of the Cubans and Filipinos. Dark-skinned Hawaii and light-skinned Puerto Rico,

there fore, welcome Uncle Sam’s instructions in self-government. Gómez (one

sector of Cuba) and Puerto Rico are the only students wearing shoes, suggesting

they have already acquired lessons in civilization, locating them ahead of the

others on the evolutionary scale. 41

Unlike the first cartoon, this one intends to highlight differences in how the

colonies engaged with US intervention, occupation, and authority. Docility and

acceptance of the US path to civilization are distinguished by gender. Women,

even “darker-skinned beauties” like Hawaii and Puerto Rico, are on the right

path. Men, meanwhile, have proved harder for Uncle Sam to dominate. The cartoon

acknowledges some differences in the ideologies and practices within Cuba

in the presentation of the three different men—white and black, old and young,

attentive and disruptive. At the same time, it mocks Aguinaldo’s authority over

the Philippines, depicting him as a young man unwilling or unable to learn from

Uncle Sam.

Racial ideologies and hierarchies informed school projects in the colonies as

much as, if differently from, in the mainland. As the second cartoon suggests, US

colonial officials characterized colonial peoples in specific ways. These racial char -

acterizations also informed their visions for colonial school projects, visions that

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 43

became law through the early process of creating new school policies. In the early

twentieth century, in addition, racial characterizations of Puerto Ricans varied.

In addition to cartoon representations, Jorge Duany has examined the multiple

ways US government officials, scholars, and photographers imagined contemporary

Puerto Ricans and their racial heritage. Americans often divided

islanders into two groups, the elite and the masses. The elite were linked to a

Spanish heritage, while the masses were defined by their racial mixture, sometimes

of indigenous descent, maybe of African heritage, but somehow mixed in

a way that individual racial heritage was indeterminate. Government displays

of Puerto Rico at world’s fairs (the 1901 Pan-American Exposition and the 1904

Louisiana Purchase Exposition) in the early twentieth century often reproduced

the island elite’s narrative of their racial and cultural heritage. Puerto Ricans were

represented as whiter and often more civilized than Filipinos, in particular. The

island was represented through Spanish architecture, meant to link the island

to European and Latin American culture. Anthropologists, meanwhile, produced

relatively different depictions. Some described the nonelite as “essentially transplanted

Spanish peasants,” while others highlighted the racial mixture of the

majority of the population. The government and academic representations were,

nevertheless, different from the images reproduced in photographs published and

collected as part of our “new colonial peoples and possessions.” Elites often disappeared

from the images, replaced by the dominant characterization of island -

ers as mulattos and blacks, who, as reflected in their clothing and surroundings,

were imagined to be impoverished, uneducated, and backward. 42

While there was variety in the racial characterizations of Puerto Ricans, the

descriptions and images were presented as part of a broader narrative of colonization.

The racial characterizations were linked to the assumption that the island was

to remain a territory of the United States, that Puerto Ricans needed tutelage, that

US colonization was justified, and that while islanders were clearly different from

Americans, they were nevertheless pliable colonial subjects. The colonial narrative

and imagery were sympathetic and paternalistic. Islanders were depicted as more

welcoming, docile, and passive than Filipinos and Cubans, with potential for transformation.

Puerto Ricans, the images and descriptions suggested, were practically

demanding the intervention of the modernizing United States. It would almost

have been irresponsible for Americans not to fulfill the “white man’s burden” and

govern the colony. 43 US visions, as varied as they were, were also informed by

neo-Lamarckian understandings of eugenics, which suggested that nurture and

the environment could lead to the limited transformation of the colonial other. 44

How did the racial characterization of Puerto Ricans inform the construction

of the island’s school project? Education via colonial schools served a specific

44 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

goal in Puerto Rico. José Manuel Navarro argues that this goal was the creation

of “tropical Yankees,” or Caribbean supporters of US colonialism. 45 Although

Puerto Ricans were imagined to be racially different from Americans, categorized

as colonial others, they could be Americanized. They could be uplifted from their

current location as neglected colonial subjects into enlightened tropical Yankees.

As such, even though they could not shed their multiracial heritage, they could

be somewhat improved, as had other nonwhites in the United States. Americanization,

therefore, promised the limited and quantified racial uplift of islanders

via education. In this way, the island’s new colonial school project, strongly de -

fined by US intentions for Americanization, was informed by US racial characterizations

of Puerto Ricans and the US government’s political intentions for the

long-term relationship with the territory.

Cartoons, photographs, and other discursive representations help us visualize

some of the arguments scholars of US empire have proposed, arguments that

inform this study. First, nation and empire were interconnected. How distinct

was national consolidation from empire building at the turn of the century? They

were twin processes. At the turn of the century, the United States had acquired all

the territory west of the Mississippi River that was bordered by the Pacific Ocean.

When the US Navy extended its authority into the Pacific Ocean and the Carib -

bean Sea, it did so intentionally and purposefully. There was no confusion or

haphazard behavior. In the early twentieth century, through the Supreme Court

rulings known as the Insular Cases, the US government carefully legislated the

rationale for maintaining incorporated and unincorporated territories. In other

words, early twentieth-century legislation allowed representatives of the US government

to imagine the nation as an exceptional democracy at the same time that

it fashioned colonial legislation and rule. Nation and empire were complementary

and interconnected.

Second, education and schooling were part of imperial and national projects.

The classroom was not simply a metaphor. US nonwhite peoples allegedly re -

quired training and schooling if they were to be converted into contributing

members, although not equal members, of US society. Likewise, colonial territories

required lessons in self-government. These were lessons to be taught not

only to local creole elites and politicians but also to children and teachers. Teachers,

as intermediate actors in the colonies, were responsible for inculcating young

students in US values, history, and traditions. They, along with other state actors,

were held responsible for Americanizing colonial subjects.

Third, the parallel paths of national and imperial projects at the turn of the century

suggest that the colonies informed the metropole. As Ann Laura Stoler and

Frederick Cooper have long argued, influences and power were not unidirectional

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 45

from the mainland to the colonies. 46 Lessons learned in earlier colonial territories,

like the Hawaii Americanization projects, informed national school projects

for African American and Native American communities. They were adjusted for

national interests and intentions and then re-exported as school models for the

new colonies. School projects, ideologies, and educators traveled throughout the

US empire, sharing experiences and learning from each other.

Fourth, while nonwhite US populations and colonial peoples could be carefully

located within one common classroom, they occupied different places on a

hierarchy. Cultural representations of colonial peoples, in particular, also varied.

Hawaii was represented differently from Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Stereotypes

of different types of Cubans also emerged. These cultural representations

both informed and reflected the particular colonial legislation that would be pursued

in individual colonies. While they were all brown and black cartoonish figures,

they were different and distinct nonetheless.

Colonial State Building and School Laws

The early bureaucratic process that imagined the founding and governance of

the local school project was emblematic of US assertions of superiority in the

colonies. Therefore, in the tradition of colonizers justifying their authority over

new territories, US officials looked at the material condition of the island’s population

and explained their intervention by highlighting the need for public in -

struction. This explanation was informed by the colonial trope of the “empty

lands” and of native subjects as “clean slates.” 47 In the early twentieth century, US

officials in particular were guided by the new sciences of administration and government.

Colonial state building was justified on the grounds of racial difference

and guided by an ethos of reformism and transformation. Informed by the mainland’s

progressive reform movement, which envisioned that the efficiencies of

the new sciences of government could effect a transformation of individuals and

communities, US officials imagined the careful management of a new colonial

public school system. 48 Colonial schools served two purposes: as a model for efficient

administration and as an engine for the transformation of colonial subjects.

One of the first steps taken by US authorities was to study, assess, and evaluate

existing schools and teachers. US occupiers in 1898 found that Puerto Rico

had two normal schools in San Juan, one for men, another for women. The main

university was the private Jesuit school, El Seminario Conciliar. There was also

the secular Instituto Civil de Segunda Enseñanza. In addition to San Juan’s industrial

school, and as stated earlier, there were 501 schools throughout the island, 384

designated for boys and 117 for girls. The 1899 US review committee, however,

46 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

reported disappointment with the instruction and methods applied in the Seminario

and the Instituto. They were dissatisfied with the “exceedingly elementary

character of the instruction” by professors who “rambled from subject to subject,

showing no evidence of preparation.” 49

US authorities chose to shut down most existing schools and start fresh:

“Before the investigation of the committee, the industrial or trade school was suspended;

upon the recommendation of the committee the Institute and the Normal

Schools were then suspended in June, 1899, at the close of the academic year.” 50

The bachelor degrees granted by the Instituto were annulled and replaced by a certificate

provided by the insular board of education listing the coursework a student

had completed. Years later, Paul G. Miller, who served as commissioner of education

from 1915 to 1921, reproduced the narrative about late nineteenth-century

“America’s Greatest Gift to Porto Rico—the Public School, Caguas,” ca. 1900.

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 47

schools in a key public school text. The history textbook he wrote and assigned,

Historia de Puerto Rico (1922), explained how at the time of US arrival, the

“mediums of instruction were not accessible to the people,” “the material conditions

of schools were deplorable,” and “hardly any of those schools, even those in

the capital city, were furnished with supplies and utilities.” 51

The second characteristic typical of colonial governance and bureaucracy was

the incorporation of and collaboration by local elites. From the earliest moments,

sectors of the local elite were invested in US intervention and made themselves

available in the early process of colonization. Historian Gervasio García argues

that sectors of the Puerto Rican liberal elite shared a class alliance with US colonizers,

whom they believed to be modern and liberal. Both groups, sectors of

the Puerto Rican elite and US colonial officials, located themselves at the top of

the social hierarchy, often reserving paternalistic and derogatory opinions for the

majority of the working class. 52 At the initial moment of evaluation, then, US officials

were assisted and directed by leading Puerto Rican educators, politicians, and

intellectuals. In that tradition, when US colonial officials began the assessment of

existing schools in 1899, they did so through a committee that included two elite

Puerto Ricans, Manuel F. Rossy and Francisco del Valle Atiles. Immediately before

the US invasion and military occupation, Rossy had been elected the minister of

education during the short-lived 1898 autonomous government of Puerto Rico. 53

Rossy had been a leading autonomist, a lawyer, an editor of the newspaper El

País, and the future cofounder of the annexationist Republican Party. Del Valle

Atiles was a eugenicist, an autonomist, and a future mayor of San Juan.

The third aspect of US colonial state building evident in the founding and governance

of a colonial school project was the centrality of the framework of paternalism.

Mary Renda, through the case study of US occupation in Haiti, argues

that paternalism was “a moral and subjective framework for colonial administration”

through the metaphor of fatherhood. It was an “assertion of authority, superiority,

and control expressed in the metaphor of a father’s relationship with his

children.” 54 At the turn of the century, US interventionist practices in the region

were justified through a paternalistic framework that dismissed imperial intentions.

US president Woodrow Wilson, in particular, rationalized US “authoritarian

action in Latin America and the Caribbean” through a “liberal political philos -

ophy” that was informed by “the unstated, yet, central racialized structures of

domination at the heart of liberalism.” Renda argues that in the case of Haiti,

paternalism was “always embodied in the logic of domination . . . based on the

assumptions that Haitians were as of yet in the early stages of their evolutionary

development as a people.” Colonial tutelage and the “guiding hand” of paternal

Uncle Sam would in time result in Haiti coming “into its own as a nation.” 55

48 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

Paternalism as justified domination was also at the heart of Puerto Rico’s colonial

school project. The recently arrived US colonial administrators looked at the

legacy of Spanish colonialism in Puerto Rico—a legacy of neglect and poverty

for the majority of the population—and through a paternalist lens declared its

intention to take on the responsibility of governance (tutelary). Crafting a narrative

about the negligence (bad parenting) of the Spanish colonial government,

US educators justified what they promised to be a new modernizing, benevolent,

and tutelary form of government. Americans (and some elite Puerto Ricans)

denied there was any value in the existing schools, complained that local teachers

were not qualified to teach, and linked this state of affairs to the practice of Spanish


The promises of a US colonial school project for the island, justified and regulated

through the discourse of paternalism, became the primary narrative of

colonial history textbooks. This was the argument that Miller presented in his

history textbook, Historia de Puerto Rico. Historia was the first history textbook

written by a US colonial official for the island curriculum. However, as the commissioner

of education, Miller was a political appointee of the US president and

the primary administrator responsible for creating “tropical Yankees” through the

colonial school system. Puerto Rican scholars and intellectuals, like Salvador

Brau and Cayetano Coll y Toste, had written narrative histories of Puerto Rico

years before the publication of Historia. However, their versions, informed by

late nineteenth-century intellectual conceptions of Puerto Rican history, were

not intended to promote the narrative of the benevolent and modernizing US

empire. Their versions of Puerto Rican history, therefore, fell outside of the

intended historical narrative that shaped the colonial curriculum.

Unlike those of Coll y Toste and Brau, Miller’s history textbook presented a

carefully crafted narrative of the “benevolent” leadership of US empire in Puerto

Rico, juxtaposed against the negligent, apathetic, and abusive policies of Spanish

colonial rule. It detailed the alleged progress and modernity Americans brought

to the island and its people, separated Puerto Rico from the history of the Carib -

bean, and located the island’s value and worth in its close relationship to the

United States. Under Spanish colonial rule, Miller argued, “the progress in instruc -

tion in Puerto Rico has been even slower than its economic and political development.”

This was in comparison to US colonial rule, where “education is a

top priority in the insular budget,” which attested to the commitment of the

United States to liberal and modern public instruction. 56 For Miller, literacy rates

confirmed the failure of Spanish colonial education. He decried the 1899 census

estimate that 79.6 percent of the population was illiterate. But in particular, in

his critique, Miller highlighted how Spanish colonialism privileged the education

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 49

of elite male boys to the detriment of women, people of color, and rural populations.

In 1860 only 7 percent of women and only 2 percent of “all people of color”

could read. Miller concluded that these numbers “not only denounce a general

lack of attention, but also an apathy and neglect, which today is difficult to

comprehend.” 57

In the history textbook Miller wrote and assigned to colonial schools, public

education and literacy rates became emblematic of the stark differences between

the qualities of Spanish versus US colonial rule. While the Spanish legacy was

neglect and apathy, the US promise was modern and progressive in its attention

to equal opportunities for education to all children, including women, people

of color, and rural residents. This guiding liberal philosophy of US educators,

presented through the argument of equality of all Puerto Ricans before the colonial

government, however, did not undermine the racial and gender hierarchies

that shaped these opportunities and relationships, for embedded in Miller’s philosophy

was the racialized, gendered, and classed hierarchies that informed

mainland school project traditions toward nonwhite peoples. Nonetheless, the

paternalist promise that balanced benevolence and domination informed how US

commissioners defined their contribution to the island’s colonial school project.

Confident that there was little to no history of public schooling in Puerto

Rico worthy of recognition, US officials embarked on the process of writing new

school laws for the colonial school project they imagined only they could build.

The new legislation, which established the framework that continues to shape

contemporary education in Puerto Rico, codified racialized US imperial visions

and practices. In February 1899, the island’s third military governor, Brig. Gen.

Guy V. Henry, created the Bureau of Education within the Department of the

Interior. Months later, Henry approved the Código de Leyes Escolares in May

1899. The 1899 school laws, the first under the US military government, overwrote

all previous school legislation. Written by Gen. John Eaton and his assistant,

Victor S. Clark, the new school laws created a co-ed, free, graded public school

system. Eaton’s school law detailed municipal responsibilities to local schools

and established teaching requirements and salaries. Weeks later, the fourth military

governor, Brig. Gen. George W. Davis, initiated the process of consolidating

the school system by creating a junta de educación to advise on all matters related

to education on the island. The junta, which replaced the initial Bureau of Education,

represented the central administration and organization of public instruction.

Eventually, the junta was composed of nine members, seven of whom were

required to be native-born Puerto Ricans. 58

The organization and administration of public instruction changed again in

April 1900 with the approval of the Foraker Act. With the Foraker Act, Puerto

50 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

Rico transitioned from a military to a civil government. The act, also known as

the island’s first constitution or first organic act under US empire, was named

after its sponsor, Senator Joseph B. Foraker of the state of Ohio. Historian Francisco

Scarano argues the Foraker Act is an example of how the racial and cultural

perspectives of US superiority became law while confirming the US Congress’s

willingness to create a colonial government. The Foraker Act defined the political

and economic relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States as it

organized the island’s civil government. It established three government branches:

executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch was composed of the

governor, appointed by the US president and responsible only to him, and the

Executive Committee, which also served as the upper house of the legislature.

The Executive Committee had eleven members: six Americans and five nativeborn

Puerto Ricans. The legislature was divided into two houses. The upper

house was composed of the Executive Committee and the lower house of the

elected House of Delegates. The House of Delegates was composed of twentyfour

members elected every two years by a majority of the voting population,

which was literate males age twenty-one and over. The legislature had the right

to create laws for Puerto Rico in all matters that fell outside of federal legislation,

but all laws passed by the Puerto Rican legislature had to be approved or could be

annulled by the US Congress. The judicial branch was composed of the Supreme

Court, which was based in San Juan, five district courts, and local courts. 59

The Foraker Act created the position of commissioner of education, and the

first commissioner further consolidated the authority of that position over the

colonial school project. The commissioner of education, appointed by the US

president, was a member of the Executive Committee. He was, therefore, in the

position to propose and approve legislation as a member of both the legislative

and executive branches. The first commissioner under the Foraker Act, Martin G.

Brumbaugh, proposed significant revisions to the early 1899 school laws, assum -

ing greater control over teachers, curriculum, organization, and administration

at the expense of the authority of municipal school juntas. In 1902 the second

commissioner of education, Samuel McCune Lindsay, proposed a new school

law that meant to consolidate US laws since 1899 and their amendments. The

Lindsay law changed the administration of the normal school, later the University

of Puerto Rico, and further centralized the authority of the commissioner.

The normal school, charged with the training of teachers, would be led by a junta

de síndicos under the leadership of the commissioner of education. The commissioner

would also serve as the chancellor of the university. 60

Aida Negrón de Montilla argues that these early laws intended to place Puerto

Rican children on the path to Americanization. She defined Americanization as

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 51

the intention to supplant a native Puerto Rican culture with an American one, or

the assimilation of Puerto Rican culture into a dominant US culture. Americanization,

as a form of cultural assimilation, was meant to generate support and loyalty

for US colonialism in Puerto Rico. She documented the multiple ways US

commissioners of education intended to inculcate Puerto Rican students with a

love of all things American—through the teaching of US history, the supplanting

of Puerto Rican patriots with American ones, the daily ritual of singing the

US national anthem, and the celebration of US patriotic holidays and parades. The

underlying assumption guiding Americanization policies, according to Negrón

de Montilla’s argument, was an ideology that maintained the superiority of US

cultural values and the inferiority of Puerto Rican ones. It was the leadership of

the Department of Education, particularly the commissioners, who were responsible

for implementing these policies. 61

From 1898 to 1916 Puerto Rico’s schools suffered through changes implemented

by six different commissioners of education in addition to the early leadership

of Eaton and Clark. Each commissioner contributed to Americanization

policies according to his priorities, from the intensity of English-language instruction

to the training of local teachers. As José Manuel Navarro argues, “U.S. governmental

and educational policy makers who held sway in Puerto Rico from

1898–1908 were not of one opinion regarding the educability, intellectual compe -

tence, and moral stature of the colonial wards received from Spain.” 62 Each commissioner

made his mark and correspondingly was forced to respond to protests

and complaints from teachers, parents, and legislators, who often disapproved of

the imposition of US imperial visions through school legislation.

The process of consolidating US authority over public schools in Puerto Rico

was deeply informed by the way US colonial officials conceptualized the relationship

between race and education, both on the mainland and in the colonies, as

discussed in the previous section. At the core of this relationship was a definition

of US empire-building practices as modern, progressive, and benevolent. In

Puerto Rico, in particular, US imperial practices were intended to overcome

the legacy of Spanish empire, understood to have had a particularly corrupting

and backward effect on the island and its people. In particular, the relationship

between US colonial authority, race, education, and empire building was articulated

through the process of creating colonial legislation, the writing of school

laws. The new school laws US colonial officials wrote and supported intended to

consolidate US author ity over schools, for the colonial school project was critical

to US empire building in the territories. I highlight a few examples from the early

history of US educators (Eaton, Brumbaugh, and Lindsay) to further illustrate

the centrality of schools to the colonial state building project, the relationship

52 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

between race and education, and the connection between US national and imperial

racial projects.

When during the military occupation Henry created the Bureau of Education

within the Department of the Interior and appointed Eaton as its director, he

was replicating in Puerto Rico the pattern already pursued in the United States

after the Civil War. The US Bureau of Education was a fledgling office in the US

Department of the Interior until President Ulysses Grant appointed Eaton to

its directorship as the commissioner of education in 1870. 63 Eaton, born in New

Jersey and raised in New Hampshire, was a teacher and school principal committed

to education and administration. He entered the army as a chaplain and was

appointed colonel of the Sixty-Third Colored Infantry regiment. Grant chose

Eaton to “run the ‘contraband’ camps, caring for and organizing the large numbers

of African-American men and women who escaped slavery behind Union lines.” 64

Eaton became the supervisor and eventually the assistant commissioner of the

Freedmen’s Bureau. He retired from the military in 1865 and had been elected

superintendent of schools in Tennessee when President Grant chose him to oversee

the organization and expansion of the US Bureau of Education, which he led

for the next sixteen years.

The imperial intention of consolidating authority over the education of nonwhites

in the US empire was important enough that, despite Eaton’s poor health

at the age of seventy, Henry called on Eaton to serve the colonial project in Puerto

Rico. On the island, Eaton’s responsibilities grew, as “he was known successively

as the superintendent of schools, director of public instruction, and chief of the

bureau of education.” 65 Despite his short tenure in Puerto Rico ( January 1899–

May 1899), Eaton was extremely influential. 66 He wrote the 1899 school laws,

which reorganized the school system and set the standards of evaluation for teach -

ers. His appointment reflected the US federal government’s established practices

at the end of the twentieth century regarding nonwhite peoples, education, and

state building, practices that he exported to and replicated in the colonies.

Let’s consider Eaton’s particular relationship to those three categories. He rose

to national prominence in the United States for his work with black freedmen

and freedwomen during the war. His military leadership in the Freedmen’s Bureau

during the Civil War, his success “managing” newly freed blacks, and his commitment

to the role of the US federal government in education won him recognition

and appointment as the first US national commissioner of education. In the

1870s, his work was at the heart of the consolidation of a federal school system,

which faced opposition from states that struggled against the centralization of

schools. Eaton’s work and recognition by Grant spoke to the strong relationship

between race, education, and nation building during Reconstruction.

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 53

Eaton’s appointment as the “first American colonial administrator of education

in Puerto Ricointended to reproduce the close relationship between education

and state building in the colonies. 67 In particular, the school project in the

new colonial territory was informed by US racial practices and ideologies. Therefore,

Eaton’s successful background “managing” newly liberated blacks in the US

South was as important as his administrative skills in education. US colonial officials

imagined a strong comparison between the experience of managing freed

blacks’ path to civilization via education and the potential path Puerto Ricans in

the US empire might be allowed to pursue. Puerto Ricans had just been “liberated”

from the oppressive and neglectful Spaniards and now, like recently freed

blacks in the United States, were in need of the guiding hand of the state. Under

the tutelage of US officials, colonial subjects could transition from the innocence

and ignorance that characterized the island’s uncivilized savagery, imagined to be

particularly devastating among the nonelite. Puerto Ricans could gain literacy,

English-language skills, and the ability to comprehend their rights and responsibilities

to the US empire. The assumption behind Henry’s appointment of Eaton

was that Puerto Rican colonial subjects, like the liberated blacks in the US South

a generation earlier, were uneducated, uncivilized, and incapable of comprehending

liberal ideologies and responsibilities without the guiding hand of white US

tutors. The US imperial project, in some ways similar to visions for Southern

Reconstruction, intended to reproduce specific racial hierarchies within the dom -

inant white supremacist framework.

In addition to Eaton’s history, the experiences of the first two commissioners

of education, Brumbaugh and Lindsay, further attest to how US colonial officials

imagined the broader racial project of US empire at the turn of the century

and Puerto Rico’s location within it. Puerto Rican colonial school laws were in

conversation not only with federal policies for African Americans but also with

school policies for Native Americans, Filipinos, and Hawaiians.

Puerto Rico’s early commissioners of education were prominent educators

from northeastern US universities who, after serving short appointments on the

island, went on to pursue powerful careers in academia and politics. Brumbaugh,

for example, was a graduate of Harvard University, earned a PhD from the University

of Pennsylvania, and was the president of Juniata College when President

William McKinley appointed him as the first commissioner of education in

Puerto Rico (1900–1901). His fourteen months on the island provided him with

experiences in policies that he, in turn, imported to the mainland. In 1902 he

returned to the University of Pennsylvania, where “he earned a national reputation

as an expert on how to teach American children patriotism along with reading,

writing and arithmetic.” 68 In 1906 Brumbaugh became the superintendent

54 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

of the Phil adelphia public school system and from 1914 to 1919 served as the

Republican governor of Pennsylvania.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Samuel McCune Lindsay, professor

of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, the island’s second commissioner

(1902–4). In those two years, Commissioner Lindsay served concurrently as

the president and chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico in addition to his

appointment to the Executive Committee of the legislative and executive branches.

After his tenure on the island, he returned to the faculty at Penn and then went

on to serve from 1907 to 1939 as professor of social legislation at Columbia University,

where he was committed to child labor reform. 69

Brumbaugh is remembered in the history of colonial education in Puerto Rico

for addressing two main challenges: the early efforts to rapidly expand elementary

schools and the corresponding challenge of hiring enough teachers to attend to

the new classrooms. To address the latter challenge, Brumbaugh pushed through

the Puerto Rican legislature new policies that provided funding to send Puerto

Rican students to pursue secondary education in the United States. He also in -

vited leading US educators to travel with him throughout the island, sponsoring

teacher training seminars in order to quickly provide training to the newly hired

but feared to be underprepared Puerto Rican teachers. Finally, Brumbaugh advocated

for the exchange of teachers between the United States and Puerto Rico.

Americans were recruited to come to the island to serve as English-language

teachers and to model contemporary US pedagogic methods for local teachers.

The second commissioner, Lindsay, carried on Brumbaugh’s teacher-exchange

initiatives, sending hundreds of Puerto Rican teachers to Cornell and Harvard

for summer teaching institutes. 70

The policies and initiatives carried out by Brumbaugh and Lindsay in Puerto

Rico were formulated within the broader turn-of-the-century framework that

shaped the relationship between race, education, and empire among US educators,

liberals, and progressives who identified themselves as “friends of dependent

peoples.” Brumbaugh, Lindsay, and the third commissioner, Roland P. Falkner,

were each invited to report on the progress of US colonial schools at the annual

Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian and Other Dependent Peoples.

It was at this conference that Brumbaugh proudly reported the success of his poli -

cies, which allowed Puerto Rican students to study in the United States while the

island received model US teachers. Lindsay shared with the Lake Mohonk conference

audience the success of the summer institutes held at Cornell and Harvard,

and Falkner testified to “the desire of our people that the [Puerto Rican]

schools should represent the full American system of public schools.” 71 The commissioners

made their presentations about Puerto Rican colonial schools before

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 55

an audience committed to acknowledging “a sense of the worth of other races

than our own, and with a conviction that all those who would be of real service

to the people of different races and religions with whom the events of the last

decade have brought us into close political relations should study sympathetically

the national life, the history, the ideals, and the racial characteristics of those

whom they would help.” 72 The Lake Mohonk conference created a venue for US

colonial representatives to come together and reflect on potential “solutions”

to “the Indian Problem,” “the Philippine Problem,” “Hawaii To-Day,” and “Porto

Rican Policy.” 73

The close relationship between race and education in “the dependencies” and

“Indian Territory” that members of the Lake Mohonk conference represented was

also reflected in colonial school legislation. It was under Brumbaugh’s leadership

that the Puerto Rican legislature approved two laws (H.B. 35 and S.B. 12) that

annually allocated fellowships to provide for twenty-five Puerto Rican students

to attend schools in the United States. 74 When in 1903 Lindsay revised all school

laws and amendments issued since 1899, his legislation specified that Puerto

Rican students would be designated to attend the premier model African American

industrial and agricultural training and normal schools in the United States.

Section 73 of the 1903 school law specified that “the colleges and institutions

designated for these students to carry out their studies, shall be the Hampton

Institute, Virginia, and the Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama; as well as

other similar educational institutions.” 75 One of the additional schools selected

for Puerto Rican children to attend was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in

Pennsylvania, “the first Indian school to be founded by the federal government

off a reservation.” One of the foremost early twentieth-century Puerto Rican

educators, Juan José Osuna, attended the school, along with sixty other Puerto

Rican students, before it closed in 1918. 76 The formation of racialized school

projects for nonwhite peoples on the US mainland and island colonies, dating to

the nineteenth-century example of Hawaii, was interconnected. Puerto Rico’s

foundational school laws were shaped by US colonial officials’ racialized imperial

vision for nonwhite peoples in combination with the particular challenges that

local actors and conditions posed.

In conclusion, the examples of Eaton, Brumbaugh, and Lindsay suggest that,

in the early years of US colonial rule, US officials intended to establish their

authority through the creation of a public school system. Creating new colonial

schools first required delegitimizing the existing schools and disenfranchising

local teachers. As US colonial educators created new laws and policies that centralized

the colonial school project, they not only consolidated US authority over

the new schools but also legislated US racialized ideologies and practices.

56 The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race

Disenfranchising the existing Spanish colonial schools and requiring a generation

of teachers who had spent a lifetime practicing in local schools prove they

had the skills and competence to work for the new, allegedly modern, and progressive

US colonial schools were the US empire’s first steps in consolidating their

authority over local matters. This process intended to erase the island’s history

before US arrival, characterizing the island as a relic and abandoned backwater of

a declining and degenerate Latin empire. This characterization of pre-US Puerto

Rican history would continue to emerge as a contentious interpretation in education

debates through the first half of the twentieth century.

US colonial officials abolished the schools they found upon arrival because

they imagined a superior model. The US model of colonial schools, critiqued for

its narrow Americanization goals, was also an extension of the history of school

policies for nonwhite peoples in the broader US empire. Americanization did not

simply mean Puerto Ricans would be assimilated into US culture. It was more

specific than that. Puerto Ricans were set on the path to reconstruction through

education, a path already forged by African Americans, Native Americans, and

Hawaiians, and a path meant to locate nonwhite peoples in a particular location

in the racial hierarchy. The process of deliberately consolidating US authority

over colonial schools was part of the broader US racial project at the turn of the


The new school laws written for Puerto Rico replicated Eaton’s intentions as

the first US commissioner of education on the mainland, laws that reflected his

experience legislating policies for the reconstruction of freed blacks through education

in the United States. Brumbaugh and Lindsay celebrated the importation

of US teachers who could serve as model educators as they spread the English

language at the same time that they exported Puerto Rican students into African

American industrial schools and Native American boarding schools. The early

commissioners shared ideologies, practices, and experiences with a broader com -

munity of like-minded progressive whites at the Lake Mohonk conferences. The

conferences allowed the commissioners to converse with others who were also

working with colonial subjects in the US empire—specifically, Native Americans,

Hawaiians, and Filipinos—and who were also creating policy. When Puerto Rican

colonial subjects traveled from the island territory to the mainland, they were categorized

according to phenotype and parsed out into already existing segregated

schools in the United States—Tuskegee, Hampton, and Carlisle.

In these early laws, US colonial officials’ intentions to consolidate their author -

ity over local schools were deeply informed by how they imagined the relationship

between race and education both on the mainland and in the colonies.

Americanization of nonwhite peoples in this early period was very specific. It was

The Politics of Empire, Education, and Race 57

more than the general intention found in the scholarship: to erase Puerto Rican

history and identities in order to replace them with American ones, however those

might be defined. For early US colonial officials, Americanization meant finding

particular ways to put colonial peoples on the path to racial reconstruction

within the broader US imperial project, a project framed by the ideology of white


chapter 2

El magisterio (the Teachers)

A Counterpoint: The maestro sufrido

US officials, informed by racial ideologies about nonwhite peoples in the mainland

and territories, intended to consolidate and centralize the colonial school

project. However, local teachers, educators, politicians, and intellectuals forced

US officials to negotiate those intentions. Documenting literacy through census

statistics, keeping track of the number of new classrooms founded, and importing

US teachers were markers for how US officials interpreted and evaluated their

contribution to colonial society. These were symbols of alleged US imperial

benevolence and modernity. Puerto Rican teachers and educators, from different

urban centers and defined by multiple political inclinations, had their own intentions

for colonial schools. Their visions, nevertheless, were also informed by local

constructions of race, class, and gender.

Puerto Rican teachers who practiced under the Spanish colonial government

in the late nineteenth century were disenfranchised with the arrival of Americans.

New school laws required them to pass US-based examinations in order

to qualify to teach in the newly established colonial schools. Many were recertified

and returned to their profession. It was these very teachers who proposed

direct challenges to US officials’ visions for colonial schools. Local teachers did

not transition into the US colonial schools without critique. While they may have

shared some assumptions and characterizations about nonelite Puerto Ricans

with US officials (see chapter 3), they nevertheless allocated themselves (local

experts) and Americans (foreigners) different locations and responsibilities

within the school project. For example, teachers were particularly anxious about


El magisterio (the Teachers) 59

illiteracy rates in the student body, as were Americans. That mutual concern,

however, did not mean local teachers shared the same vision for colonial schools

or that they were willing to hand over authority to US colonial officials.

One way local teachers and educators challenged US assumptions of authority

was by establishing their independence from the Spanish colonial government.

They did not deny that Spanish colonial officials neglected the founding of a

universal school system. However, they proposed an alternative narrative of the

history of education on the island and their role within it. Teachers developed a

narrative around the heroic and romanticized representations of the teacher as

martyr. This image demanded recognition of the history of nineteenth-century

teachers, particularly the initiatives and selfless practice of those who labored

in spite of the neglect and lack of interest of the Spanish colonial state. When

they narrated a separation of their history from that of the Spanish colonial state,

they were also asserting their independence from the visions and practices of

US empire. Teachers understood that US colonial officials crafted an image of

themselves as liberators and modernizers. They also recognized that US imperial

visions were informed by white supremacist racial ideologies. Puerto Rican teach -

ers were not willing to grant US officials complete authority over definitions of

modernity, nor were they willing to accept US racial ideologies that contradicted

local narratives of racial harmony.

The myth of racial harmony was an evolving narrative in the late nineteenth

century. It was an emerging ideology that popularized the argument that the

island, unlike the neighboring Caribbean islands and the United States, had maintained

“social” peace and positive relationships among the classes. This peace and

harmony was built on a narrative about the benevolence of Puerto Rican liberals,

like Segundo Ruiz Belvis, José Julián Acosta, and Francisco Mariano Quiñones,

who in 1866 called for the abolition of slavery. The myth of racial harmony in the

late nineteenth century, however, was also deeply regulated by a “conspiracy of

silence” over racial conflicts. 1 Elites and the leadership of the working class collaborated

to manage racial conflict and facilitate political and economic alliances.

Intellectuals and politicians embraced the myth of racial harmony as a strategy

with which to challenge US colonial officials’ assumptions about authority over

the colonial school project. Early twentieth-century educators, like Juan José

Osuna and Gerardo Sellés Solá, however, also deployed this strategy. As they proposed

an alternative narrative of the history of education in nineteenth-century

Puerto Rico, teachers further contributed to the construction of the foundational

myth of racial harmony.

In particular, teachers and educators promoted the emblematic image of the

maestro sufrido, the “martyred teacher.” This was the teacher who, despite the lack

60 El magisterio (the Teachers)

of resources provided by the Spanish colonial government, had dedicated his life

to the moral and patriotic labor of bringing literacy and rudimentary elementary

instruction to the children of Puerto Rico. The image of the maestro sufrido

acknowledged that nineteenth-century Puerto Rico suffered from an inadequate

school infrastructure. However, the responsibility for these conditions lay in the

policies of the negligent Spanish colonial state, not the practice of local educators

who struggled to teach despite material limitations and, sometimes, political persecution.

The struggle and commitment of the maestro sufrido was best captured

and promoted through the memory of maestro Rafael, who was a private teacher

and a tobacco worker by trade. A free black in the slave society of colonial urban

San Juan, he provided instruction to young boys in his home, which was also a

tobacco workshop.

The history we know today about maestro Rafael was produced by his former

students, who after his death in 1868 eulogized and documented his life in their

writings. Narratives about maestro Rafael’s life, whether written in the late nineteenth

century, reproduced in the first half of the twentieth century, or commemorated

in the 1990s, follow a specific trajectory: Rafael Cordero Molina was

born in San Juan on October 24, 1790, to freed black parents—Lucas Cordero,

a master artisan, and Rita Molina, a seamstress. Slavery was not abolished in

Puerto Rico until 1873. As a free black man in early nineteenth-century Puerto

Rico, maestro Rafael’s education and occupation opportunities were restricted

by colo nial laws that regulated the rights of freedmen. As a child, he was particularly

interested in reading and writing but was not allowed to attend the one

school for boys in San Juan, which restricted attendance to children of white

families. In response to this institutionalized racial discrimination, his parents

created a private school for children of color in their home. Due to his parents’

diligence and attention to education, maestro Rafael, his sister, Celestina, and

other free black children in San Juan attended the private Cordero school.

As an adult, Rafael became an artisan, a tabaquero and shoemaker. In 1810

he opened a school for poor children in his tobacco workshop on Luna Street in

San Juan. He is remembered for not discriminating between the poor and rich or

the black and white. Turn-of-the-century intellectual Salvador Brau wrote that

maestro Rafael “gathered around his tobacco worktable the children of presumptuous

officials together with those of obscure working people to distribute free

education among them.” 2 Maestro Rafael provided boys with elementary schooling

in his tobacco workshop for fifty-five years. Finally, when maestro Rafael

was seventy-five, the Spanish colonial government recognized his labor and provided

him with a monthly salary of $15. He initially rejected the salary but eventually

accepted it. He used the funds to provide clothing and books for his poorer

El magisterio (the Teachers) 61

students and distributed the rest among the homeless in the streets of San Juan.

Many of maestro Rafael’s elite students left the island to attend university abroad.

Nineteenth-century doctors, writers, lawyers, scientists, priests, and abolitionists

such as José Julian Acosta, Román Baldorioty de Castro, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera,

and Francisco del Valle Atiles attended maestro Rafael’s school as children.

Former student Lorenzo Puente Acosta eulogized maestro Rafael in 1868 in a

biography printed in pamphlet form. 3 This became one of the primary documents

scholars, teachers, and writers reproduced as new generations revisited the legacy

of maestro Rafael. In 1891 other former pupils wrote biographies of maestro

Rafael’s life as part of the ceremonies at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño held to commemorate

Francisco Oller’s oil painting of maestro Rafael. As part of that commemoration,

the San Juan community also organized a three-day event in which

they placed a plaque outside of maestro Rafael’s escuela-taller, “school-workshop.”

The activities were attended by the San Juan Association of Teachers and other

elite members of San Juan society, including writers, intellectuals, and journalists

such as Federico Asenjo, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, Salvador Brau, Manuel Fernán -

dez Juncos, José Daubón, and Sotero Figueroa. These authors, in turn, published

their reflections of maestro Rafael in biographies, memoirs, and newspaper articles.

The 1890s narratives proposed the argument that through the multiracial and

cross-class space he created in his school and by example, maestro Rafael planted

La escuela del maestro Cordero, Francisco Oller, 1891.

62 El magisterio (the Teachers)

a seed of liberalism and equality in the minds of those students who returned

to the island as adults and contributed to the abolitionist movement or fought for

autonomism. Despite being “a son of the oppressed and degraded race,” wrote

Sotero Figueroa, “without hate in his heart, without curses on his lips, [maestro

Rafael] raised the humble tribute of public instruction in the same capital where

the governor resided, avenging himself of his hates and persecutions, teaching

the sons of whites, whom he placed in admirable union with the blacks, to be

learned and laborious, noble in word and deed, mild and humble.” 4 Figueroa

acknowledged that in colonial Spanish society, a freed black might have “hates

and persecutions” against the white creole and peninsular elites and slave owners.

Somehow, however, maestro Rafael had overcome those sentiments, and he spent

his life generating class and racial harmony through his labor in the classroom.

For these reasons, maestro Rafael’s example, Figueroa argued, was “noble.”

Although the authors celebrated maestro Rafael’s understated commitment to

the equal treatment of black and white, rich and poor, in Spanish colonial society,

in their writings they reproduced their own deeply racist and classist assumptions

about African-descended peoples in Puerto Rico. The writers highlighted

how maestro Rafael was exceptional “for his race,” a “good-natured black man”

(negro bondadoso), and a “racial integrationist” (integrador de razas). In the earliest

published eulogy (1868), Puente Acosta considered him a “brilliant exception”

to “the miserable state of degradation and disregard that dragged down that

unfortunate race.” 5 Figueroa, another student, glorified maestro Rafael’s successful

life and example, considering that he was, after all, “branded with the stamp

of degradation (black skin . . . ).” 6 Creole elites did not expect African-descended

peoples to value education, be dedicated to teaching or to Christianity, attempt to

overcome poverty, earn a “respectable” living as skilled artisans, or show benevolence

for the poor. These assumptions guided Puente Acosta’s final assessment

of maestro Rafael’s labor: “Public instruction slumbered in the forgotten island

the heavy sleep of death, [when] a poor black man, overwhelmed by the challenges

of poverty and branded by the fatal mark [black skin] that characterizes his

unfortunate class, was able to offer a surprising example of virtuousness, abnegation,

and patriotism.” 7

This 1890s narrative about the exceptional example of maestro Rafael’s practice

constructed by liberal autonomists during the Spanish colonial period was

rearticulated in the early twentieth century. The myth of racial harmony and

the emblematic image of maestro Rafael allowed late nineteenth-century writers

and early twentieth-century teachers to promote a romanticized narrative that

was disassociated from the race relations that shaped nineteenth-century Puerto

Rican history. Maestro Rafael, his sister, and his parents before him were not

El magisterio (the Teachers) 63

allowed to attend the racially segregated school for elite boys in San Juan. These

conditions forced his parents to homeschool their children and open that space to

other children of color denied public schooling. The practice of racial segregation

in a nineteenth-century Caribbean slave society shaped the story of the Cordero

family. Although in the early twentieth century the myth of racial harmony be -

came a powerful tool employed by multiple sectors of the Puerto Rican creole

elite to challenge US assertions of white supremacy and superiority, it was a

mythic foundational story that was challenged by the material reality of the majority

of the island’s working class and nonwhite peoples. As Eileen Findlay, Luis

Figueroa, and Ileana Rodríguez-Silva have argued, it was a myth that attempted

to erase Puerto Rico’s violent history of racial and class discrimination. 8

These visions of maestro Rafael, published in 1868 and the 1890s, were reproduced

in the writings of teachers and educators in the early twentieth century. In

particular, Puerto Rican educators reproduced the brief biography of maestro

Rafael written by former pupil José Daubón in new teacher training materials.

In the 1920s two prominent Puerto Rican educators resurrected maestro Rafael’s

story. Gerardo Sellés Solá and Juan José Osuna collected and published documentary

sources about the history of education during the Spanish colonial

period. This publication represented the demands of a new generation of educators

to acquire knowledge about the local history of teaching as a challenge to

the assumption that this was an imported practice from the United States. Lecturas

históricas de la educación en Puerto Rico, finally published in 1943, was one

of the only teaching sources that reproduced pre-1898 historical documents,

and in it Sellés Solá and Osuna included Daubón’s 1891 biography of maestro

Rafael. Daubón’s interpretation of maestro Rafael’s life and legacy has become a

standard part of the narrative in publications about the history of education since

the 1940s. 9

Maestro Rafael’s example is part of a broader foundational myth of nation

building. He is remembered as the model teacher of the children of San Juan and

as the teacher of elite children who left the island for university training abroad

and returned radicalized as autonomist leaders or abolitionists. The twentiethcentury

narratives about maestro Rafael suggested that the main political ideology

that guided emerging creole nationalist identities in late nineteenth- and early

twentieth-century Puerto Rico—autonomism—was crystallized through the ex -

am ple of maestro Rafael’s classroom. 10 Creole autonomist leadership, which was

not succumbing to but negotiating with US colonial authority in the early twentieth

century, the narrative suggests, had been initiated into literacy and socialized

in the cross-class and multiracial space cultivated by the skilled artisan of African

descent. In this interpretation, maestro Rafael is remembered for “overcoming

64 El magisterio (the Teachers)

his own economic and social limitations in order to provide the first schooling

to the great men who forged nineteenth-century Puerto Rican society.” 11

However, maestro Rafael’s example also supported the argument teachers and

educators developed to challenge US assertions of authority over the colonial

school project. He represented how local teachers intended, in the early twentieth

century, to distinguish teachers’ labor from the limitations and policies of the

colonial state, whether it was the old Spanish or the new US version. Maestro

Rafael’s example spoke to how Puerto Rican educators were dedicated to providing

children with access to education by any means necessary. Although an

artisan and teacher with limited resources, he provided free instruction to poor

children and accepted whatever donations the families of elite students offered.

When he received a salary from the municipality or was honored with a monetary

award, he used the money to buy books and distributed the rest among

the homeless and beggars of San Juan. By not denying poor or rich access to his

school, maestro Rafael generated a cross-class space for creole children. Despite

the lack of support or recognition from the Spanish colonial state, maestro Rafael

dedicated his life to the children. In maestro Rafael’s example, teachers and educators

could propose a history of patriotic labor—“that patriotic achievement”

(esa hazaña patriótica)—that was carried out at the initiative of teachers, parents,

and students, despite whatever limitations and policies the Spanish colonial

state posed. 12 This relationship between local teacher and colonial state allowed

early twentieth-century teachers and educators to demand recognition for the

history of their labor throughout the nineteenth century and to establish a tradition

of independence between their patriotic labor and the politics of the

colonial state.

In addition, through the maestro Rafael example, teachers distinguished themselves

from Americans on the grounds of race and morality. Teachers articulated

a challenge to the US racial project in the colonies. They recognized that Americans

were members of a white supremacist society that segregated schools by

race in the mainland. Although the new public schools on the island were not

segregated by race, Puerto Rican children sent to study in the United States on a

fellowship were designated to attend African American industrial training schools

or Native American boarding schools. The maestro Rafael example allowed

teachers and educators to counter with the myth of racial harmony, to propose an

alternative narrative about racial formation, by suggesting that local teachers were

the product of generations of educators who reproduced and valued the tradition

of working through race and class differences. This identity with racial harmony

intended to condemn US racial practices of segregation while locating

local teachers on a higher moral plane.

El magisterio (the Teachers) 65

In these ways, the emblematic local teacher, best personified in maestro

Rafael’s image, was used to challenge the US racial project and to contest the

location of Americans in the forging of a new colonial school project. Teachers

and educators turned to maestro Rafael’s story to relay their imagined alternative

racial project and to locate public instruction at the core of a broader challenge

to US colonialism. Specifically, by highlighting the morality and selflessness of

the Puerto Rican educator as outside the control of the colonial state, maestro

Rafael’s story empowered teachers to challenge US interpretations of nineteenthcentury

Puerto Rican history, the negligent legacy of Spanish colonialism, and

the authority and intentions of the new self-defined modern and benevolent US

colonial state. His image also allowed teachers to lay claim to the political legacy

of autonomist leadership in the late nineteenth century, a legacy carried forward

in early twentieth-century debates.

Silencing Celestina

Gender and patriarchy also informed how local teachers used maestro Rafael’s

story. The martyred teacher was also a gendered image that glorified male teachers

who were committed to the education of young boys. Appropriate gender

roles, as defined by the familia puertorriqueña organizing framework, assumed

the authority of male voices and leadership in public spaces. His authority

extended to all members of the household, particularly women and minors.

For the local teaching leadership, control over the school project was also a struggle

to retain male privileges to labor outside the home, provide education to

boys, and police and restrict women’s right to education, access to public spaces,

and labor.

Gender and patriarchy shaped practices in the colony and the metropole. US

overseas expansion was an expression of turn-of-the-century masculine definitions

of manhood. 13 US empire scholars, like Kristen Hoganson and Gail Bederman,

argue that US expansion overseas, the acquisition of empire, and, particularly,

engaging in war in the colonies were foreign-policy decisions deeply informed by

a US national crisis in masculinity. Overseas expansion promised an opportunity

to practice a new definition of masculine manhood. However, the Puerto Rican

example suggests that US men, in the form of colonial authorities, did not limit

their practices in masculinity to foreign policy and war. Consolidating authority

over colonial schools was another venue through which US officials tested their

ability to expand their own masculine authority and export definitions of gender

roles. However, gendered ideologies and patriarchy were already deeply rooted

frameworks in Puerto Rico, although defined differently from the bellicose and

66 El magisterio (the Teachers)

masculine US men. In the debate over the direction of colonial schools, teachers

and educators (in the form of local and imperial men) also had to negotiate their

right to establish, maintain, and redefine patriarchal authority.

Paul G. Miller, despite the “benevolent” imperial lens that shaped his interpretation,

was not mistaken when he reported in Historia de Puerto Rico that women

and people of color had been disproportionately denied the right to access public

instruction. As Fernando Picó argued, nineteenth-century schools privileged

boys and elites and reproduced clear class and racial differences in Puerto Rican

society. Although women and people of color had less access to schools than elite

white males, women—African-descended women, in particular—had generated

a legacy of providing private instruction for girls. Salvador Brau was one of the

few turn-of-the-century scholars who recognized the labor of female teachers

and of African-descended women in particular. His acknowledgment, nevertheless,

was mediated within a broader reflection of how maestro Rafael integrated

both races in the classroom. Maestro Rafael’s example, Brau argued, was also typical

of “conduct practiced all over the island by women, some of them blacks or

free coloreds, intellectual mothers of an entire generation of both sexes.” 14

The way the 1890s creole elite interpreted the image of the emblematic teacher

denied and silenced the history of female teachers in the nineteenth century, but

particularly the history of African-descended female teachers. Early twentiethcentury

historical narratives reproduced that silence. This silence is particularly

apparent because maestro Rafael’s biographies always included a brief but tangential

reference to his sister, Celestina. The late nineteenth-century biographers

did not explain that when he became a teacher at the age of twenty, maestro

Rafael was following in the footsteps of his older sister. Born in 1787, Celestina,

like maestro Rafael, was homeschooled. In 1802 she opened a school for girls in

San Juan that serviced both blacks and poor whites. In the 1810s she acquired a

license from the bishop “to impart a Christian education to poor and black

girls.” 15 Celestina appeared in the historical record on February 10, 1817, when

she came before the meeting of the city council of San Juan to request financial

assistance for her school. She appealed for funding before the council members,

reminding them that for the past fifteen years she had taught 116 girls without

receiving support from the municipality. Nevertheless, her request was denied.

When her brother opened his school in 1820, he was already a cigarmaker by

trade. As Jack and Irene Delano have argued, maestro Rafael was “following in

her footsteps” when he opened his school for boys. 16

When Celestina was acknowledged, her labor was presented as marginal

and/or complementary to her brother’s work. Carmen Gómez Tejera’s and David

Cruz López’s early narrative, La escuela puertorriqueña (1970), for example, quotes

El magisterio (the Teachers) 67

at length Daubón’s biography of maestro Rafael and then mentions, within paren -

theses in a footnote, that his sister ran five schools during her lifetime in San

Juan. Some scholars have merely portrayed her as maestro Rafael’s assistant in his

school for boys, while still others have only narrated that later in life Celestina fell

ill and became an additional burden and responsibility to the selfless maestro

Rafael. Salvador Brau wrote that maestro Rafael refused to deposit his “poor

wretched sister” in a house of charity, where she could be attended to, for she

“lacked reason.” 17 Only in the recent Delano and Delano publication (1994) is

Celestina’s history presented relatively independently of her brother’s labor. 18

When early twentieth-century teachers, intellectuals, and politicians celebrated

maestro Rafael’s example and canonized him as an emblematic teacher and foundational

figure in nineteenth-century Puerto Rican history, they also chose to dis -

miss, silence, and diminish his sister’s labor and the legacy of an African-descended

Celestina and maestro Rafael. In this illustration, Celestina is inserted into the

traditional narrative and image of maestro Rafael, represented in the 1891 painting by

Oller. Celestina is located in a central and active position in the classroom, engaging

with students (Delano and Delano, En busca del maestro Rafael Cordero; reproduced

with permission of the Estate of Irene and Jack Delano).

68 El magisterio (the Teachers)

woman who spent a lifetime running private schools for girls in San Juan. Celes -

tina’s example was not centered in the narrative that male teachers reproduced in

the early twentieth century. There was little interest in acknowledging black

women’s leadership in the early colonial school project. Black women’s labor fell

outside the cross-class, multiracial, fraternal narrative that creole elites and teachers

used to challenge US colonial officials. Black women were not part of that

alliance, for the racial harmony myth did not intend to overcome existing racial

and gender hierarchies. Black women’s labor, whether enslaved or freed, was

normalized rather than exceptional. Neither elite Puerto Ricans nor US colonial

officials recognized that labor or granted it value in the discursive struggle to

establish authority over schools. Therefore, Celestina’s story was not incorporated

into the cross-class, multiracial, male alliance that was at the heart of the nationbuilding


In the early twentieth century, as local teachers from multiple generations

came together to challenge US authority over the new colonial school project,

Celestina as burden to maestro Rafael (Delano and Delano, En busca del maestro Rafael

Cordero; reproduced with permission of the Estate of Irene and Jack Delano).

El magisterio (the Teachers) 69

they resurrected the narrative of maestro Rafael’s selfless, moral, and patriotic

labor, even as they silenced Celestina. Maestro Rafael’s image became a symbol of

resistance to US colonialism more broadly. It was located at the core of the island’s

foundational nation-building narrative of racial harmony. Maestro Rafael was cred -

ited with planting the seed of liberty and equality in the minds of generations of

political leaders, particularly autonomists and abolitionists. He was an educator

who, by providing an alternative to the US mainland practice of racial segregation,

allowed teachers and educators to claim a higher location on a moral hierarchy.

Although the symbol could be used to represent a unified front to challenge

US colonial authority, it was also emblematic of the race, class, and gender hierarchies

that elite teachers tried to reproduce in the face of changing cultural norms

and definitions of tradition, progress, and modernity. Nevertheless, the conflicts

within the teaching class—the generational conflict between the older leadership

and new teachers, between men and women, between those from middle-class

and working-class backgrounds—would reemerge throughout the first half of the

twentieth century as teachers struggled to present a unified voice before the de -

mands of the new US colonial officials (see chapter 3).

Teachers Mobilize

With the maestro sufrido image, teachers and educators proposed a discursive

challenge to the new US authority, specifically US narratives about the legacy of

nineteenth-century Spanish colonialism, the history of teachers’ labor, and the

alleged benevolence and superiority of the US school project. This discursive

challenge was articulated through the competing ideology of racial formation at

the turn of the century, an ideology that reproduced patriarchal authority over

teachers, schools, and students. In addition to the discursive challenge, however,

teachers were carrying forward the tradition and practice of professional resistance

they had developed in the late nineteenth century.

Late nineteenth-century teachers, in fact, mobilized in defense of their professional

rights and defended them before municipal school boards and the centralized

Spanish colonial government. Rubén Maldonado Jiménez documented how

teachers struggled against the politically repressive tactics of the Spanish colonial

state and the partisan politics of members of school juntas (boards). Municipal

school boards, responsible for hiring and appointing teachers to local schools,

became one additional barrier for teachers demanding professional rights. At the

turn of the century, teachers bore witness to change in colonial authority, to centralization

and consolidation by US administrators, and to the increased partisan -

ship of school boards. In the face of these challenges, Maldonado Jiménez argued,

70 El magisterio (the Teachers)

teachers were vocal and persistent in their pursuit of fair labor rights. 19 By the

early twentieth century, teachers had begun to unionize by region—in San Juan,

Ponce, and Mayagüez.

This tradition of forming alliances within the profession to challenge assaults

from the colonial state and municipal school boards led to the founding of the

islandwide Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR, Association of Teach -

ers of Puerto Rico). The union was founded in 1911 under the combined leadership

of San Juan and Mayagüez regional teachers’ unions. 20 As the public school

system expanded and a new generation of teachers were trained and hired, the

AMPR became the organization through which the teaching leadership sought

to more effectively represent their professional demands before the commissioner

of education, the Puerto Rican legislature, and municipal school boards.

Once the AMPR was founded, local branch representatives met during annual

conventions held in late December. Teachers elected at the municipal level at -

tended the conventions, contributed to committee meetings, elected the AMPR

board of directors, approved or rejected amendments to their constitution, and

negotiated an annual list of acuerdos (demands). During the three to four days the

convention met, committees were elected and called to meetings organized by

topic (home economics, agriculture, and physical education) and/or occupation

(teachers, principals, and inspectors). The convention produced amendments

to the AMPR constitution as well as a list of acuerdos to be presented before the

commissioner of education and the legislature. The annual acuerdos addressed a

series of concerns. In addition to professional demands regarding salaries, appoint -

ments, and tenure, teachers proposed demands to the colonial government regard -

ing the future of home economics instruction, the welfare of children in rural

schools, and the organization of civics and history textbooks.

The AMPR was an important organization for the profession. Despite important

ideological and generational divisions within the teaching force, negotiation

with the US colonial state required a unified front. The AMPR became the venue

through which teachers channeled their goals—professional demands as well as

ideological visions for schools and children. And through the support of the major -

ity of its members, the AMPR, as an early version of a civil service labor union,

was empowered to negotiate the stated interests of the rank and file with colonial

administrators—the commissioner of education and the island legislature. While

the AMPR represented this unified voice when it negotiated with colonial officials,

it was also a fragmented organization. The teaching profession underwent

deep transformations in the early years of the twentieth century.

Those elected to the AMPR board of directors were university-trained individ -

uals who came from families of elite or middle-class social standing within their

El magisterio (the Teachers) 71

regional communities. I characterize the leadership of the AMPR as “elite teachers.”

Their backgrounds were not necessarily typical of the majority of the teaching

force. They were older, had more professional training, and were connected

to regional elite families. Some rose to the leadership of the teaching profession

through the colonial Department of Education (DE). Their class and professional

training set them apart from the younger teachers. These differences became

more pronounced in the 1920s and 1930s as the teaching force changed. Elite

teachers authored and produced the majority of sources in the AMPR archives,

newspapers, and education journals. In the sources, their perspectives and opinions

are more prominent than those of nonelite teachers. I refer to them as elite

teachers, therefore, in order to maintain a distinction between the opinions and

experiences of the elite of the teaching profession and the rank and file.

Francisco Vincenty is an example of the vocal leadership of the teaching profes -

sion in the early twentieth century. Vincenty’s life story, for example, was typical

of those who rose to the leadership of the AMPR through the late 1920s. Vincenty

was fifty-eight years old when he was elected president of the organization in 1917.

Originally from rural Mayagüez, Vincenty attended primary school in Maricao

and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Colegio San Juan, where he was a student

of Rafael Janer y Soler. He studied pharmacy and acquired the title of licenciado

en Farmacia. He alternated between teaching Latin and Spanish and practicing

pharmacy in San Juan, Jayuya, and Mayagüez. Immediately before the 1898 US

invasion, Vincenty was practicing pharmacy and owned and directed the private

school known as the Liceo de Mayagüez. After the US occupation, he and other

educators were required to take annual exams that certified them to teach in the

new colonial schools. After taking his exams, Vincenty began working as the principal

of the Mayagüez schools, a position from which he retired in order to direct

a private school, the Instituto Municipal de Mayagüez, founded by the Puerto

Rican educator Eugenio María de Hostos. Over the next fifteen years, Vincenty re -

turned to teaching and administrative work in Mayagüez, Cabo Rojo, and Caguas

and finally became a lawyer in 1913. He had nurtured a career in public and private

education when, in 1917, he was elected to the presidency of the AMPR. 21

Vincenty represented those who became islandwide leaders of the AMPR and

the teaching profession. They were members of prominent regional families.

They were intellectuals, men privileged with education and professional training,

from landowning families. They had chosen not to pursue the traditional profession

of the elite (medicine or law) and instead dedicated themselves to public

service, particularly education. This was the history and experience of the early

leadership of the AMPR. Their class and training informed the organization’s

political and social positions vis-à-vis the colonial DE and US colonialism.

72 El magisterio (the Teachers)

Vincenty’s generation of educators, with the arrival of the Americans, found

they had lost some authority over the direction of the new US colonial schools.

In turn, they created alternative venues through which to present their opinions

about policy and through which to negotiate their visions with colonial authorities.

The leadership of regional teachers’ unions, which came together in the

island wide AMPR, represented these newly displaced educators. These educators

reemerged as the vocal leadership of a new generation of public school teachers.

In the 1910s the AMPR provided that generation of educators with a venue

through which to establish their prominent voice and moral authority over the

direction of schools. However, Vincenty and other elite teachers who assumed the

right to speak on behalf of their profession found that they had to negotiate their

visions not only with US colonial officials but with the new, younger generation

of teachers joining the profession.

The first twenty years, between 1900 and 1920, the primary challenge for the

colonial DE was expansion and growth. From 1910 to 1920 the number of classrooms

tripled, and the number of teachers doubled (table 1). A growing number

of educated, middle-class students responded to the call to fill the new teaching

positions in the expanding school system. In the early years, urban cities and

towns received more attention and resources than rural areas. Addressing rural

communities, however, became a priority as more and more rural schools were

founded to service children and communities. By 1921 2,100 rural classrooms

had been founded. 22

By the 1920s, teaching had become a predominantly female profession. Seventy

percent of all teachers were female (table 2). However, there were some

regional variations. In San Juan, a larger percentage than average of women was

employed in the profession (88 percent). This higher percentage was likely due

to the concentration of foreign-born female teachers in the city, US women

recruited to the island through policies of US commissioners of education. San

Juan also had a higher concentration of modern school buildings (graded and

Table 1. Schools, teachers, and students, 1910–1940

Number of government-owned Number Public school

Year schoolrooms of teachers enrollment

1910 522 1,623 95,342

1920 1,422 3,220 176,617

1930 3,273 4,451 221,189

1940 4,048 6,294 286,098

Source: Osuna, A History of Education, table 6, 628.

El magisterio (the Teachers) 73

Table 2. Teachers by gender, 1920 and 1930

1920 1930

Male 1,106 1,456

Female 2,636 4,254

Sources: United States Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census, table 39, 1303; United States Bureau

of the Census, Fifteenth Census, table 4, 188.

built of concrete) and secondary schools. Ponce, the island’s “second capital,”

mean while, had a higher concentration of male teachers (23 percent) than San

Juan (12 percent).

Academic debates over the accuracy of racial classifications in national census

records in Latin America and the Caribbean are rich and extensive. Deciding how

an individual should be racially classified on a census form is one of the most

socially constructed processes. It is also a beacon for academic debate, particularly

because of the assumption that the process of collecting census data can be scien -

tific and objective. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the social construction of

race allows for occupation to influence racial categories and vice versa. 23 A profes -

sional who was of an intermediate racial category (such as a light-skinned mulatto)

might have been enumerated as white instead of black. In addition, racial classification

can be influenced by the identity of the enumerator. Although individuals

reported their race, enumerators filled out the census form. Puerto Rican censuses

of the early twentieth century can be particularly challenging to read and interpret

because of the colonial encounter. The US Census Bureau applied its standards

and definitions to the colonial and multiracial Caribbean population. These are

factors to keep in mind as we try to draw information from the records.

Race and gender statistics for Ponce and San Juan suggest some variations be -

tween the regions (tables 3 and 4). In both urban centers, the majority of teachers

were categorized as native white women. In San Juan, black men and women were

a small percentage of all teachers. About 14 percent of all male teachers were black.

The same percentage of all female teachers was categorized as black. However, in

Table 3. Ponce schoolteachers, 1920

Native white Black* Foreign-born white

Male 39 15 7

Female 164 25 14

Source: United States Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census, table 37, 1299.

* The census uses the term “Negro” in English.

74 El magisterio (the Teachers)

Table 4. San Juan schoolteachers, 1920

Native white Black* Foreign-born white

Male 29 7 7

Female 256 54 69

Source: United States Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census, table 38, 1301.

* The census uses the term “Negro” in English.

Ponce, about 25 percent of all male teachers were black. The composition of

teachers in San Juan and Ponce was predominantly white and female. However,

San Juan had a high concentration of US female teachers, while Ponce had a relatively

high representation of black male teachers.

The shifts and transformations in the field of education in the early twentieth

century were also informed by generational changes within the teaching profession.

As the writings of the older AMPR leadership in the 1910s and 1920s suggest

(see the next section), all teachers witnessed important transitions in education—

control by Spanish versus US colonial administrations, Catholic versus secular

instruction, sexually segregated versus coeducational classrooms, a majority-male

to a majority-female profession. Political views, class identities, and racial ideologies

also clashed between and within generations. Finally, “modern” versus “traditional”

pedagogy introduced changes to the curriculum.

The 1920 census records some of the generational differences emerging within

the profession. Teachers in 1920 were divided. About half of all teachers (1,949)

recorded in the census were born at the turn of the century. Those born in the late

nineteenth century, between 1876 and 1895, composed the second largest group

of teachers (42 percent), while the eldest group (ages forty-five to sixty-four) was

only about 5 percent of the total. Census records also document that the younger

the teacher’s age group, the higher the percentage of women. For example, 76

percent of all teachers within the sixteen to twenty-four age range were women.

In the twenty-five to forty-four age group, 64 percent were women, while in the

forty-five to sixty-four age group, 60 percent were women. This gender pattern

changes slightly for teachers sixty-five years and older. In that range, a larger percentage

(72 percent) than the average was female. This might suggest that older

female teachers worked in the classroom later in life than men (see table 5).

The younger generation of teachers born at the turn of the century received

their elementary and secondary instruction during the early years of US colonial

schools. Teachers born in the late nineteenth century might have been informed

by late nineteenth-century creole ideologies and then balanced those with the

El magisterio (the Teachers) 75

Table 5. Teachers by gender and age, 1920

Age 16–24 Age 25–44 Age 45–64 Age 65 and above

Male 467 550 80 8

Female 1,482 1,010 123 21

Source: United States Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census, table 39, 1303.

influence of US colonialism at the turn of the century. It was the elders, teachers

in their late forties and fifties, who had the most professional experience as teachers

from the late nineteenth century. They also represented the elected leadership

of the AMPR in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The gender transformation of the teaching force, however, was not reflected

in the hierarchy and organization of the AMPR leadership. Although teaching

became increasingly female-dominant, the elected president and public face of

the AMPR continued to be male. While women joined public service occupations

in unprecedented numbers in the early twentieth century, the patriarchal

framework continued to be reproduced at every level of the Department of Education

as well as within the directorship of the AMPR.

Meanwhile, the social background of the teaching force did not undergo a significant

transformation but rather a reinforcement of its middle-class roots. The

social origin of the majority of teachers represented a range of occupations that

can be categorized as an intermediate or middling group. The intermediate group

included a combination of white- and blue-collar occupations, such as farmers

who owned their land, merchants, and skilled artisans. At the opposite margins

of the intermediate group were “professionals” who traditionally composed the

elite (doctors, surgeons, and lawyers) and “laborers” at the bottom of the social

hierarchy (non-property-owning agricultural and industrial wageworkers).

In the late nineteenth century, the coffee planter class was at the pinnacle of its

economic, political, and cultural influence. However, the coffee elite suffered the

displacement of its social status in the early twentieth century as investments and

growth in the colonial economy shifted away from coffee production toward modern

sugar plantations and centrales (mills). A range of occupations satisfied the

demands of a primarily agricultural economy and its increasingly export-oriented

growth. Meanwhile, the export economy generated an increase in service-oriented

occupations. As the bureaucracy of the colonial government grew, the range and

number of civil service occupations multiplied. 24

A survey of 1920 census data suggests that the majority of teachers came from

families whose head of household was employed in a range of occupations that

76 El magisterio (the Teachers)

fell primarily within the middle sector of the colonial economy. 25 For example,

the majority of occupations held by heads of household in which a teacher was a

relative or a spouse included farmers (18.9 percent), merchants (14.1 percent),

and civil servants (13 percent). 26 Within the sample that included teachers, most

of the heads of households enumerated as farmers were in the coffee industry, and

the rest were distributed among farms that produced varied fruits and vegetables,

tobacco, and sugar. Most merchants traded in foods, small goods, and provisions

(pulpería, mercería, víveres, o provisiones), while the second largest group of merchants

traded in tobacco. Blue-collar households represented a range of skilled

workers and artisans. For example, the majority of teachers in blue-collar households

were related or married to a head enumerated as a seamstress, tobacco worker

in a factory, carpenter, or shoemaker. The rest of the blue-collar occupations in -

cluded a variety of skilled workers, such as bakers, mechanics, hatmakers, silversmiths,

and painters. The census data suggest that the teaching force absorbed

the labor provided by the children or spouses of the socially descending and displaced

coffee planter class in an increasingly sugar-centered, export-market, colonial

economy as well as the children of aspiring artisans. 27

The 1910s and 1920s teaching force united under the leadership of the AMPR

at a time of great change. The older generation carried forward their experiences

under the Spanish colonial government in the late nineteenth century. They

emerged as the leading voice of the profession. They were elite teachers and acted

as the representatives of all local teachers. That generation, defined by their class

and gender privilege in the colonial society, saw the AMPR as the organization

through which they could promote their professional demands before the new

US colonial authority and all its agents—the commissioner of education and the

legislature. The AMPR leadership, however, had to contend with a new, younger

generation of teachers who came into the profession in increasing numbers. The

new teachers brought with them a different perspective, for they had been trained

and educated within the US colonial framework. In addition, most of the new

teachers were women.

Despite the transformations in the teaching force, the AMPR leadership tried

to speak in a united voice. Their writings, petitions, speeches, and conferences

spoke to broad intentions. First, they sought to firmly establish the boundaries

and parameters of their profession. Second, they intended to channel the energy

of new teachers into the primary social agenda of the AMPR—nurturing the

relationship between the home, school, and country. This vision was complex,

for it represented teachers’ intentions for their students, defined by progress and

modernity. It imagined the regeneration of the citizenry, a transformation that

only teachers, as modern actors, could lead.

El magisterio (the Teachers) 77

Hogar, Escuela, Patria (Home, School, Country)

Nancy Leys Stepan and scholars of race, science, and eugenics in Latin America

identified a common concern of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century

national elites. 28 Intellectuals, politicians, professionals, and others questioned

how they could “create out of their heterogeneous populations a new and purified

homogeneity on which true ‘nationhood’ could be created.” Different social

contexts in each country, or regions within countries, allowed for an interpretation

of social eugenics that lent itself to imagining the regeneration, or uplift,

of populations. Eugenic ideas were combined with national definitions and identities,

especially after World War I and in the 1930s. Eugenic visions, particularly

neo-Lamarckian hereditary definitions, “in which no sharp boundaries between

nature and nurture were drawn,” informed the “history of medicine, family,

maternity, population, criminology, public health, and social welfare.” Improving

the health of the individual was part of the process of addressing the health of the

nation and the “quality” of its citizens. 29

Puerto Rican teachers in the early twentieth century, like educators in Brazil,

Mexico, and Argentina, proposed their own interpretations of social eugenics. 30

In their speeches, petitions, and letters to newspapers and legislators, they advocated

policies they believed could lead to the regeneration of “the nation.” They

emphasized the relationship between home, school, and country. 31 The root of

the problem, they explained, was found in the home. Teachers critiqued the

alleged failures of rural and urban parents, specifically the nonelite. Informed by

modern pedagogy, teachers questioned parents’ abilities to create healthy and

nurturing home environments in which children could thrive. Within this line

of argument, schools were that much more urgent given the failure of homes.

Teachers, informed by modern methods of instruction, could educate children

where parents could not. Teachers could contribute to the regeneration of the

pueblo (people) through the teaching of home economics, physical education,

and rural agriculture. Children, then, as they brought home lessons from schools,

could serve as a model for parents. Children could effect change in contemporary

and future homes, leading to the potential transformation of communities and

neighborhoods. In this way, together, teachers and students could build a healthier,

modern, and more progressive patria.

Teachers articulated a relationship between home, school, and patria that was

a national vision. Teachers were contributing to the formation of national identities

in the early twentieth century. The fact that the national project was crafted

and promoted within a colonial school system, that a national vision for Puerto

Rico (the patria) was imagined as part of, but not independent from, the US

empire was not exceptional nor paradoxical. Rather, it was typical of the history

78 El magisterio (the Teachers)

of island politics. Elites had proposed definitions of emerging national identities

since the nineteenth century, identities that were imagined within and in relation

to the Spanish empire. 32 These were reinterpreted as more liberal and progressive

in association with the US empire. In the 1910s and 1920s Puerto Rican teachers

also articulated a vision for schools that was typical of liberal autonomist definitions

of national identities, visions that could be promoted within the colonial

school system. This, however, required a careful balance. Teachers promoted

national identities that did not mean to subvert the authority of the US colonial

administration, for when they crossed that boundary, when in the 1930s they

promoted nationalist ideas that challenged colonialism and imagined political

sovereignty, they were quickly reprimanded. 33

Addressing the home, school, and patria became a priority. In the late 1910s

and 1920s teachers envisioned that the potentially healthy and modern patria

“Directiva de la Asociación Local de Maestros” (The advisory board of the local

teachers’ association), 1925. Santiago Negroni, honorary president of the Yauco

association, was the author of the hogar, escuela, patria speech printed in the PRSR

(Masini et al., Historia ilustrada de Yauco).

El magisterio (the Teachers) 79

of Puerto Rico was being undermined by the allegedly palatable “degeneracy” of

homes and the raza. In this relationship, the term raza was a reference to “the

people,” la raza, of the island, a national raza. The concept of raza was informed

by but different from the concept of race. US census records reported that Puerto

Rico’s population at the turn of the century was 62 percent white (native and foreign-born)

and 38 percent nonwhite (32 percent mulatto and 6 percent black). 34

These census categories of race (white, mulatto, black) are socially constructed. 35

They are particularly slippery when a foreign government (the United States)

defines categories of race, informed by its history of race relations and law, and

applies them to a colonial territory (Puerto Rico). Puerto Rican society had its

own history with those categories. 36 Two different yet complementary systems

of racial classification overlapped during census enumeration. Region further

complicated the reported percentages of racial categories. The populations of the

coast and the highland mountains were shaped by the history of export commodity

production (sugar, coffee, tobacco) and its labor systems (free and enslaved).

Urban and rural populations, which required different occupations in port towns

versus agricultural farming, shaped the distribution of black, mulatto, and white

populations as well. 37 At the moment of enumeration, class biases informed how

the enumerator defined his or her subject’s race. Finally, census records silence

how individuals defined their own identity.

Keeping these factors in mind, we can, nevertheless, propose that teachers

were informed by both race and raza. Teachers in urban and rural settings, in the

coasts and in the highlands, wrote about the degeneracy of the student population.

This vision of degeneracy was informed by interpretations of race as a

biological category—comments on racial mixture, miscegenation, and hybridity

in student populations. At the same time, those critiques were presented and

informed by the language of science and environment—disease, poverty, illiteracy,


There was, however, an additional layer. When teachers used the term raza

to refer to the “national body” of Puerto Ricans, they were also responding to

the context of empire. They were claiming a heritage different from that of the

imperial Americans. Use of the terms raza and race was intended to distinguish a

Puerto Rican “community” from the foreign and occupying Americans, who

were stereotyped as Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, and English-speaking, despite the

heterogeneity of Americans on the island and in the United States. The colonial

encounter, therefore, heightened elite local claims to a Hispanic, Catholic, and

Spanish-speaking heritage. This was one of multiple frameworks (Latin versus

Anglo-Saxon) that shaped local discourses on race and served to further homogenize

teachers’ interpretations of raza. Raza became a national term to define

80 El magisterio (the Teachers)

Puerto Rican children in opposition to US visions. At the same time, however, it

silenced more complex discussions of racial heterogeneity within the student

population and the teaching force, for children and teachers in urban Ponce and

Guayama did not look the same as children and teachers in the rural schools of

Yauco and Utuado.

In the home/school/patria trilogy, proposing the reconstruction of the home

first required addressing the alleged degeneracy of the raza. Discourses about the

state of children’s bodies became a primary location for identifying degeneracy.

Elite teachers like Gerardo Sellés Solá proposed that children’s unhealthy or

dysgenic state was the result of the environment to which they were exposed in

homes and streets. Discussions about the state of children’s bodies were, therefore,

contributions to a debate over the health of the raza and the nation. Sellés

Solá, president of the AMPR in the 1920s, made this connection explicit in his

proposal for expanding access to physical education courses. His intention was

to justify the expansion of physical education classes, to make them accessible to

all students, not just elite children in urban high schools. He proposed that physical

education might be an effective method for “the emerging enterprise of the

regeneration of the patria.” 38

Sellés Solá was thirty-three years old when he was elected president of the

AMPR at the 1921 annual convention, held in Arecibo. A native of Caguas, he

represented the generation of teachers who received their elementary education

during the late Spanish colonial period. In 1902, at the age of sixteen, Sellés Solá

graduated from the one-year rural teacher training course offered through the

newly founded University of Puerto Rico and was certified to teach by the

Department of Education. In many ways, his career as an educator was typical of

many of his generation. Although he began as a rural teacher, he quickly moved

to urban schools and eventually became an administrator, a school inspector for

the DE. The 1920s teaching leadership was composed of individuals who entered

the teaching profession early in the US colonial period and then rose into administrative

positions and became leaders by the 1920s. The education Sellés Solá

acquired, however, distinguished him from others. A recurring concern of US

colonial administrators was the lack of education the majority of teachers held.

Sellés Solá, however, earned a BA in education in 1926 and an MA in 1930. His

MA thesis, which examined the political history of Spanish-language instruction

in the first thirty years of the twentieth century, became a core reading in the history

of education. 39

Sellés Solá embraced the challenge of addressing the health of the student

body. His intention was to “modernize” the curriculum through the expansion of

physical education in urban and rural schools. The physical health of students, he

El magisterio (the Teachers) 81

argued, “is considered of secondary importance.” Instead, he proposed that it

was as important as the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic. This was an

interpretation of the post–World War I theory of modern education that promoted

the balanced development of a child’s mind, body, and soul. As AMPR

president, Sellés Solá proposed his argument for the overhaul of physical education

in a carta circular that was distributed to all teachers. With it, he also

intended to address municipal school authorities. He demanded that all educators

become aware of what surrounded them: children who were physically

“abnormal” and in an “alarming” state of health. He highlighted the “cataclysmic”

conditions of physical degeneracy among the children of Puerto Rico and called

for action.

Sellés Solá proposed that a core goal of public instruction was the formation

of healthy, moral, and intelligent citizens. He was alarmed at the reportedly “cataclysmic

levels of physical degeneracy” within the student body, which ultimately

challenged teachers’ broader intention of forming citizens. “We are on the

verge of a cataclysm of physical degeneration, or we are in full-fledged cataclysm,

and yet we remain serene, not looking for means to resolve the problem. . . . No

one seems moved by the presence of such physically abnormal children. So many

feeble children, with weak lungs, deaf, with rotten teeth, poor vision, and abnormal

height and weight!” 40 Sellés Solá identified these to be markers of “degeneracy,”

but they were preventable and, more important, reversible through the

modern practice of physical education and other methods. Physical education

was just one modern method that could contribute to the sanitation of home and

public spaces with the goal to regenerate the child. This was an interpretation of

“preventive” eugenics. 41

For Sellés Solá, racial degeneracy was due to a combination of factors. On

the one hand, it was the legacy of a history of ignorance, illiteracy, and poverty.

On the other, it was compounded by neglect, tradition, and isolation. Children

without access to schools, he feared, were engaged in behaviors that were both

symptoms and causes of racial degeneracy, such as public drinking, gambling,

and prostitution: “Hundreds of children advance toward the field of immorality

and crime for all the well-known reasons: poverty, ignorance, overpopulation,

prostitution, alcoholism, concubinaje, and so on.” The spectacle of “children who

smoke, children who gamble, teenage boys who stay up all night, young women

who have barely reached normal height and whose pale faces sport makeup that

disguises the shortage of red blood cells,” Sellés Solá lamented, could be corrected.

“Down with indolent youth who smoke, who age prematurely, who lack

vitality and energy, whose bodies are unhealthy, and whose spirits are unhealthy

too! Down with young women who are mystical and woeful, who know nothing

82 El magisterio (the Teachers)

of exercise, of sun or fresh air! Let’s have healthy and strong youth who see no

limits to their aspirations, because the power of their physical, mental and moral

force is unlimited!” 42 Sellés Solá wanted to leave that “traditional” history and

behavior in the past and move forward with modern methods.

Youth reformatories came under scrutiny in the early 1920s as journalists re -

ported on the abuses and neglect children faced in punitive institutions. 43 Reformatories,

therefore, were not the preferred choice for Sellés Solá, who was guided

by the liberal methods of modern education. Instead, he promoted founding

the Bureau of Home Extension so that teachers could be authorized to “go into

homes” and teach families “how to live.” 44 In 1922 he addressed the legislature

and shared the acuerdos approved by teachers at the annual convention. He spoke

of the emerging awareness of child delinquency in urban spaces and proposed

that legislators support mandatory attendance laws. As the voice of the AMPR,

he demanded that politicians give due attention to the “enormous problem of

children who are being initiated into perversity.” 45 Otherwise, he asked, “What

will become of them?” 46

They occupy posts at roadside games and are regular clients in the public billiard

halls, where they are drawn so as to be exploited and where they continually receive

the most impure and corruptive example. I know a place in Puerto Rico where a

group of boys shoot craps from the early hours of the evening to the break of dawn

the following day, sometimes accompanied by men, professional dice players. And

these boys, filthy, ragged, emaciated, do not attend school. If only a means could be

found to bring them to school! 47

Dysgenic behaviors were not limited to urban spaces. They were also a rural

problem. However, in the campo (countryside) the main concern was resources.

Sellés Solá advocated the founding of public parks in rural areas where children

could spend time in organized play, outdoors, under the direction and guidance

of physical education teachers: “The peasant masses are hungry for amusement

and pastimes. When lawful diversions and outdoor games become popular, we

will slowly see the disappearance of cockfights, of games in street intersections,

and other pastimes that so contribute to their demoralization and impoverishment.”

48 Teachers had the power (knowledge) with which to introduce appropriate

leisure activities and help create healthy (sanitized) environments: “One of

the major causes contributing to our youth’s deficient development is the lack of

exercise and outdoor play. Our youth, our girls, and our boys, must play. Playing

is joy. Playing allows unconstructive worries to be forgotten; it foments health

and destroys vice.” 49

El magisterio (the Teachers) 83

Sellés Solá’s speeches, lectures, and presentations in the early 1920s forcefully

proposed that teachers had the obligation, through public instruction, to

help improve the conditions under which the raza was degenerating. This was a

patriotic call in service to the nation and future generations. Dysgenic behaviors,

Sellés Solá warned, could only further weaken the race by producing degenerate

offspring: “This weak, lifeless youth is a precursor to disgraced homes, sick

and degenerate offspring. Such are the sad consequences of complete negligence

toward the study and treatment of such ills, for the love of our children, for the

good feelings we all hold in our hearts.” 50 Through teacher supervision and promotion

of healthy physical education, he believed a new generation of healthy

and vibrant youth could replace the current degenerate one and, in time, produce

a healthier patria: “Let us raise strong generations, proud of this condition and

inclined to conserve it, giving them a pure and moral life, and an adequate mental

cultivation. Let us form the perfect home, the happy home. Our patria will thus

become great thanks to the health, the purity, the intelligence, and the hard work

of its sons.” 51

Why were schoolchildren unhealthy, unfit, and degenerate? Teachers argued

that these problems were a reflection of conditions in the home. José González

Ginorio, president of the AMPR in 1919 and elected honorary president in 1921,

was especially critical of the state of homes. Like Sellés Solá, González Ginorio

stood apart from the teaching rank and file. He began his career as a teacher

but distinguished himself through academic and professional achievements,

especially as the author of Spanish-language instruction textbooks. In the 1910s

and 1920s the Spanish language was taught in island schools using the “Ginorio

method.” 52 In the 1920s he rose to the highest administrative positions within the

DE as the general superintendent of schools.

In 1917 González Ginorio wrote a series of articles on the value and promises

of “domestic education” for Puerto Rican homes. He addressed his articles, published

in La revista escolar de Puerto Rico/Porto Rico School Review (PRSR), to

parents and teachers. In these articles González Ginorio introduced “a new system

of rational domestic instruction” as a method of modern pedagogy. His articles

did not call for funding to hire home economics teachers and to create a home

economics curriculum. 53 In 1917 his intention was to work within the existing

relationship of home and school, to assess the current conditions of parenting

in homes, and to suggest modern ways to improve them. The key, he argued,

was the connection between home and school. The school was simply an extension

of the home. Mothers and teachers must work together to generate harmony

and consistency in the rearing of children and modern citizens: “When the child

arrives at school, the educational labor of the home is not concluded. No. At that

84 El magisterio (the Teachers)

moment the school enters into a pact with the home, and both commit to working

in harmony. They complement each other. School is an extension of the

home.” 54 In this vision, González Ginorio assumed that the formation of a child

and future citizen required a coalition between, specifically, mother and teacher.

The father was absent.

González Ginorio’s assessments of the state of homes were rarely complimentary.

He was concerned with parenting methods. He believed parents had

the ability to nurture or destroy a child’s character. Unfortunately, he feared, the

harshness and inconsistency that parents used to correct children’s behavior at

home caused more harm than good: “In spite of the tender love that all parents

feel for their children . . . in their noble eagerness to give them the best possible

education, they follow educative methods or practices that can easily destroy

forever the probability of happiness and success that all children have. And, most

unfortunate of all, such parents do not realize the evil they are doing to their children.”

55 Children’s behavior in schools, therefore, was a reflection of parenting

and the environment of the home: “Without fear of equivocations, the troubles

of which almost all children are accused—disobedience, willfulness, daring, and

so on—are a product of the poor or deficient education that they have received

at home.” 56 Teachers and schools, in the end, were forced to correct children’s


While González Ginorio called for a harmonious and collaborative relationship

between home and school, it was a relationship he imagined would come in

the future. At the moment, he argued, the core of the problem was parents and

homes. The solution was teachers and schools: “The home and the school are

brothers. Let it be the link of love that joins those sacred institutions. And tell

me, what strange power will be able to destroy that which the natural love of a

mother and the spiritual love of a teacher have made? Let the Home be the shield

of the School. Only then will the School be the salvation of the Home.” 57 This

was the promise of schools. They could transform allegedly failed homes. Reconstruct

the home, and you transform a generation. González Ginorio promised

that this was the path to the “regeneration of our people [pueblo].” 58

Teachers identified themselves as primary actors responsible for cultivating an

effective relationship between home, school, and patria. In the 1910s and 1920s,

as the teaching profession continued to grow and expand, the AMPR solicited

essays from teachers that contributed to the definition of their duties and responsibilities

to the patria through the school. In particular, at the annual conventions

in December, the AMPR held a literary contest (a certamen), and a panel of judges

selected winners. The certamen topics revolved around defining the profession,

clarifying teachers’ duties and responsibilities, and suggesting useful ways for

El magisterio (the Teachers) 85

teachers to collaborate with parents to overcome obstacles to progress. The

essays, authors, and judges were contributing to the process of defining teachers’

identities and commitments to students, communities, and the patria. The winning

essays were published in the PRSR and distributed widely among teachers

throughout the island. One teacher in particular, Lorenza Brunet del Valle, rose

above the rest. She won the annual certamen at least four times between 1917

and 1925. Brunet del Valle, who was born in 1883, and her brother, Carlos, were

teachers in Ponce in the 1910s and 1920s. Brunet del Valle, al though younger

than Sellés Solá, was of the same generation and committed to the promises of

modern education for the “future and progress of our patria.” 59

Brunet del Valle’s essays defined the role of schools in the home/school/patria

trilogy. They also reflected the paternalist lens through which some elite teachers

viewed their students. The distance teachers established—based on intellectual,

moral, and class differences—was often most clear when they described their

responsibilities to the “uplift” of rural students, parents, and communities. In

their descriptions they appeared overwhelmed when they imagined the responsibilities

of teachers and schools for the regeneration of rural children. It was,

according to Brunet del Valle, the teachers’ duty nonetheless. “The teacher,” she

explained, “is called to bring to fruition the very noble task of enlightening the

peasant masses, of leading them out of the thick fog of ignorance in which they

live.” Brunet del Valle imagined the peasantry as a people living in the past, in traditional

ways. They were a contemporary obstacle to the progress of the patria.

Nevertheless, the teacher, armed with the knowledge of modern education practices,

could transform and regenerate the individual and community. Teachers

could “bring the newspaper and the book to our countryside, along with hygienic

rules and modern agricultural methods in order to rouse those sleeping souls.” A

teacher’s patriotic labor could “take them out of the apathy in which they live,

lighting a ray of enthusiasm in their hearts, and interest for those material things

that can be useful.” Brunet del Valle, an urban teacher, believed rural teachers had

a special duty above all others. Theirs was a “labor of love, patriotism, and faith.” 60

What was the patria Sellés Solá, González Ginorio, and Brunet del Valle spoke

of? How did they define the concepts of country, nation, and empire? Nuestra

patria—“our country”—was Puerto Rico. In speeches, lectures, and essays, teach -

ers addressed their partners—other teachers, educators, and legislators—in the

struggle to rebuild the patria. In the 1910s and 1920s their use of the concept of

patria was informed by the assumption that they were in conversations with the

people of Puerto Rico as a national community, or a people who shared a common

history, language, and values. Rarely did they mention the “biological”

(racial) heritage of the community other than in references to “Latin” culture and

86 El magisterio (the Teachers)

heritages. Instead, they spoke of the potential regeneration of the raza. Their

expressions of national identity were also rooted in the geography and physical

boundaries of the island. The struggle was to build links across regions—from

Mayagüez to San Juan to Ponce to Juncos—and to address the needs of both

rural and urban communities. At great expense, elected local AMPR leaders traveled

once a year to their central conference. By doing so, they participated in the

process of articulating their commitment to the patria of Puerto Rico. When they

spoke of the patria, they assumed a shared knowledge of language, territory, and


For Puerto Rican educators in the 1910s and 1920s, imagining a national community

was an extension and rearticulation of the political projects that emerged

in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were not advocating a nationalist

vision that required the founding of a politically sovereign state. Instead,

their visions were within the parameters of existing autonomist political ideologies.

They imagined the patria could continue to evolve, strengthen, be uplifted.

This was not contradicted by maintaining a temporary relationship with an em -

pire. Autonomists had called for increased local authority and control under

the Spanish colonial state in the late nineteenth century. They initially imagined

that a relationship with the self-defined liberal, progressive, and modern United

States could only lead to more liberal ideas and developments for the island.

Teachers were not arguing that there was a contradiction in nurturing the patria

while maintaining a temporary relationship with the United States.

Therefore, in December 1919, when González Ginorio addressed teachers in

attendance at the annual convention in San Juan, he was free (without fear of

repression from US colonial authorities) to call on others to commit to the task

of “regenerating our people.” He asked teachers to recognize their “saintly mission”

in the name of the community and the patria: “The educational problem of

a country . . . should be addressed everywhere: in schools, homes, streets, places

of recreation, the press; there where a member of society dwells, the city and

the countryside, the plains and the mountains. Such is the duty that, conscious

of its mission, the Association of Teachers of Puerto Rico accepts.” 61 Teachers, as

members of the AMPR, would contribute to the regeneration of the patria. In the

1910s and 1920s this was imagined to be a process that could be undertaken in

collaboration, rather than in conflict, with US colonial officials.

In fact, Puerto Rican and US educators spoke across the boundaries of language

and empire. They worked together to implement a colonial school system

that could address those concerns—the home/school/patria trilogy—that were

a priority to both teachers and US colonial officials. The vision of rebuilding the

home, centering the school and teacher in the community, and contributing to

El magisterio (the Teachers) 87

the patria was not entirely foreign to US educators. US liberal educators saw

potential in Puerto Rican students, potential educators were not sure they could

identify in other colonial subjects, particularly Cubans and Filipinos. These differences

were as much informed by the armed revolutionary practices of these

groups as they were by the racial and cultural characterizations of Puerto Ricans.

The allegedly whiter, more benevolent, docile, and receptive Puerto Ricans were

imagined to be a good test for Americanization practices. 62 This was a test US

liberal educators imagined could be more successful in Puerto Rico, in the tradition

of Hawaii, than in other colonies.

The writings and declarations of the AMPR leadership acknowledged that

Puerto Ricans were a people currently under the “protection” of a larger nation,

but they never conceded that this was a permanent relationship or that Puerto

Rico would be “absorbed” within the United States. The island’s colonial relationship

to the United States was not foreign to the older leadership. In the late

nineteenth century, teachers struggled for recognition before a Spanish colonial

state. In the early twentieth century, they reorganized and carried forward that

struggle, but now before the US colonial state. The change in imperial authority

created a different impetus for public education, but it did not undermine the

teaching leadership’s vision that the island and its people were a community and

culture different from those of the colonizer.

In the tradition of autonomist politics and with the intention to lay claims

to their intermediate position in the colonial hierarchy, therefore, the AMPR

membership voted in support of a “resolution of Gratitude and Loyalty to the

President and Congress of the United States.” In response to the US Congress’s

approval of the Jones Act in March 1917, which granted US citizenship to all

Puerto Ricans born on the island, the AMPR expressed its “appreciation and

gratitude . . . for this signal recognition of the capacity and right of the people of

Porto Rico to enjoy a larger measure of self-government and full citizenship.” Teachers,

who were emerging from the repression of a declining Spanish colonial state,

imagined Puerto Rico’s right to “a more liberal form of government” as part of the

modern US empire. 63

This interpretation of the promises of US colonialism for schools and students,

however, did not negate the grave disagreements between elite teachers

and US administrators. In fact, they disagreed over the content of the curriculum,

the language of instruction, and the political allegiance teachers were expected

to instill in their students. After the Jones Act, the policies of the US colonial

Department of Education changed. The DE more aggressively promoted the

Americanization of students, the creation of “tropical Yankees,” and instruction

in the English language. During this transition, the AMPR leadership claimed

88 El magisterio (the Teachers)

their location within the colonial hierarchy. This negotiated position, the choice

to locate themselves within the colonial hierarchy rather than in direct opposition

to it, was a rational choice for the older leadership of the AMPR, since they

were seeking the most direct and effective way to control how the colonial school

project would evolve in the early twentieth century. Negotiating imperial policies

guaranteed them as much autonomy as they could secure within the new US

colonial state.

Nevertheless, the AMPR leadership’s method of negotiating imperialism was

equally informed by the repression they faced when they directly challenged US

colonialism. Teachers faced very real restrictions on public expression. They

were civil servants of a colonial state. US officials were unforgiving of open

expressions of radical nationalism or critiques of US colonialism. Those teachers

or education students who stepped outside of the narrative were penalized,

decertified, fired, blacklisted, and pushed out of public schools and into private

practice. 64 US education officials were particularly intolerant of anticolonial

expression in schools, for they imagined education to be the primary ideological

tool for reproducing support for US colonialism. Teachers, therefore, who

worked within the colonial framework as employees of the Department of Education

were aware of the restrictions imposed on them regarding critiques of US


The subordinated position of teachers in the politically charged early twentieth

century was evident in the process by which elite teachers sought to define

the parameters of their profession. In an act of self-censure, Sellés Solá clarified

that the AMPR membership should not intervene in political debates. The late

1910s and 1920s were years of dynamic political debate and contestation between

political parties and US colonial authorities regarding colonialism, autonomism,

and citizenship. 65 In 1921 Sellés Solá distributed a letter to local association

members highlighting the professional character of their union. In fact, political

censure of teachers was law. School law no. 52 denied teachers the right to advocate

for a particular political party or candidate; the penalty was the loss of their

teaching license. Sellés Solá’s position was that teachers must show that “the

Association of Teachers of Puerto Rico is not a political party, nor does it wish to

intervene in political disputes.” Sellés Solá and the AMPR moved away from

building solidarity with trade unions and toward strengthening their relationship

with other elite professional organizations, such as associations of doctors, dentists,

and lawyers. “Nor is the Association of Teachers of Puerto Rico a purely

economic organization; it is essentially a professional association. This is how

we understand the association, and working from this perspective, we will better

uplift ourselves and surround ourselves with greater prestige before all the

El magisterio (the Teachers) 89

country’s social classes.” 66 This professional distinction was part of the process by

which teachers increasingly disassociated themselves from the organized working

class of the 1910s and 1920s and from the children of working families in their

classrooms, children upon whom teachers located symptoms of racial degeneracy.

However, this was also a response to the intolerance and repression of US

officials. Therefore, there were limits to the strategy pursued by elite teachers,

the intention to promote their visions within the US colonial framework rather

than in opposition to it. Promoting the relationship between home, school, and

patria required teachers to employ nonpartisan policies and temper anticolonial


The promise of the regeneration of the patria was not an ideology unique to

teachers. It was precisely the vision that Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón proposed in

the early twentieth century. Matienzo Cintrón was a political leader who advocated

for the unification of Puerto Rican political leadership in the interest of regeneration,

or the cultivation of a Puerto Rican personality. He warned against physical

degeneration and supported the regeneration of the raza. At the same time,

Matienzo Cintrón advocated for regeneration within the process of Americanization,

which he conceptualized as liberal, modern, and progressive. Americanization,

however, should not become a practice of imperialism. He vehemently

opposed Americanization when it meant the reproduction of empire, when it

embodied the process of imperial formations, when it generated exemptions

from basic definitions of republicanism and democracy to allow for colonial relationships

and impositions. Matienzo Cintrón’s definitions of regeneration and

Americanization were emblematic of autonomist ideology—they were proliberalism

and modernity but anticolonial. This was the ideology that also informed

the founding of the Partido Unión, a liberal reform party under the leadership of

Luis Muñoz Rivera and José de Diego in the 1910s. 67 While this vision of regeneration,

which was at the core of autonomist ideology and the reproduction of

colonialism in the early twentieth century, was not unique to the teaching leadership,

it is im portant to recognize that teachers fervently advocated for these concepts

as well, for they were the daily transmitters of cultural norms to students

and parents. This vision of regeneration was complementary to Matienzo Cintrón’s

vision and to the ideology that guided the liberal Partido Unión. However,

it also became the dominant ideology of important intermediate actors—teachers—in

the colo nial hierarchy.

The documents teachers produced—letters, speeches, lectures, petitions,

acuerdos—in the 1910s and 1920s spoke directly to how the home/school/patria

trilogy informed their visions for Puerto Rico’s schools. The trilogy was a popular

interpretation of social eugenics. It promised the regeneration of the raza and

90 El magisterio (the Teachers)

the cultivation of a healthy, modern, and progressive patria. The way teachers

articulated the promises of the trilogy, however, did not allow for an acknowledgment

of the economic structures that shaped the material conditions of urban

and rural workers. In these early years, teachers located symptoms of degeneracy

in the individual, on student bodies, in failed parenting, and in homes. They

were not calling for a revolution—for the transformation of political and economic

structures—that could allow for the material improvement of families and

students. Although national visions informed by the home/school/patria trilogy

were not revolutionary, they were significant nonetheless. For these were the

ideas that led to the reform of curriculum in the 1930s in order to better address

the daily needs of students through physical education, home economics, and

agricultural economics.

chapter 3

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

In 1917 the US Congress approved legislation for Puerto Rico and other territories

that embodied the practices of “imperial formations,” providing another

example for how the United States as a modern empire “blurred genres of rule

and partial sovereignties” as it “created new subjects . . . under uncertain domains

of jurisdiction and ad hoc exemptions from the law on the basis of race and cultural

differences.” 1 World War I reminded US legislators of the geopolitical value

of Puerto Rico to the United States in the Caribbean. In March 1917 the US Congress

approved the Jones Act, which replaced the Foraker Act as the island’s colonial

constitution. The Jones Act did not fundamentally alter the colonial terms

of the Puerto Rican–US relationship as established by the Foraker Act in 1900.

Instead, although it provided some reforms, it reinforced Puerto Rico’s status as an

unincorporated colonial territory. In a controversial move, the Jones Act granted

US citizenship to all persons born on the island. In April 1917 the US Congress

declared war against Germany and entered World War I. A month later, the US

Congress approved a new Selective Service Law, requiring obligatory military

service by all men age twenty-one to thirty. Puerto Rican men, as US citizens,

were obligated to register for military service according to the Selective Service

Law. 2 Puerto Rican men were recruited into the newly founded colonial military

regiment (the Porto Rico Regiment) and deployed to guard the Panama Canal

for the duration of the war.

The 1920s education debates sought clarification of the definitions and obligations

of this new colonial citizenship. This apparent contradiction—granting

US citizenship to those born on a colonial territory—generated great criticism

and opposition from the vocal leadership of the island’s political parties. When it


92 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

was approved, the Jones Act caused grave disillusionment among the political

leadership, including Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, Luis Muñoz Rivera, José de

Diego, and José Celso Barbosa. While the leaders of political parties maintained

opposing opinions regarding the practices of US colonialism in Puerto Rico,

none expected that the United States, as a self-defined liberal democracy, would

grant US citizenship to Puerto Ricans at the same time that it denied fundamental

colonial reform and consolidated the island’s unincorporated status. Historians

César Ayala and Rafael Bernabe argue that in response to the new colonial

parameters that the Jones Act established, political parties from 1917 forward

reorganized into a politics of colonial reform. “With the demise of the Partido

de la Independencia,” the political party founded in 1912 that advocated for the

independence of Puerto Rico, “Puerto Rican politics . . . came to be dominated

by the clash of versions of colonial reformism, which included the accommodation

of the Partido Unión to the limits of the relation of nonincorporation

with the U.S., the collaboration of the new pro-Statehood Partido Republicano

with U.S. colonial rule, and the colonial reformist drift of the Partido Socialista.” 3

The year 1917, therefore, marked a historical shift toward the politics of colonial

reformism, embodied in the new colonial citizenship and the Porto Rican Regiment’s

participation in World War I.

The colonial reformist politics of the 1920s were also informed by a cultural

debate over the process of cultivating a Puerto Rican identity and personality.

Liberal leaders linked the promises of regeneration with the formation of national

identities. Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, for example, argued that the “essence of

a Puerto Rican identity” already existed and only needed to be cultivated. Proannexationist

Republicans like José Celso Barbosa, meanwhile, did not recognize

a burgeoning national identity and instead argued that “the true Puerto Rican

identity would be created through the process of Americanization itself.” 4 The

debate over the practice of Americanization in the 1920s required defining the

parameters of colonial citizenship, identifying the space for promoting the uniqueness

of Puerto Rican identities and practices within the limits of the colonial

framework established by the Jones Act. Public schools were at the center of

the process of negotiating colonial reformist politics. Puerto Rican teachers and

administrators consciously contributed to debates over the promises of colonial

reformism and citizenship.

Colonial reformism and the cultural debates, in addition, were shaped by bourgeois

women’s public appeals for moral reforms in the 1920s. Women’s participation

in the public sector grew as more working-class women became seamstresses,

laundresses, hatmakers, fruit canners, and tabaqueras and as middle-class women

joined the teaching and nursing professions. Radical working-class leaders like

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 93

Luisa Capetillo and Juana Colón called for the eradication of patriarchy in public

and private spaces. Women workers led labor strikes and challenged political and

labor leaders’ assumptions about women’s appropriate roles in Puerto Rican society.

5 In addition, a more moderate group of middle-class women emerged as the

leading voice of the 1920s moral reform movement. 6 Middle-class women’s advocacy

represented the ideology of “social feminism,” which imagined ways of im -

prov ing women’s “influence and autonomy” within the home, community, and

society. 7 Social feminists advocated for women to become better mothers and to

more effectively complement the husband in the home. An ideology that accepted

assumed biological differences between men and women, social feminism nevertheless

intended to advance women’s roles as a requirement of a modern and liberal

society. In the 1920s social feminists called for the moral reform of working-class

families and advocated for the right of literate women to vote. In their struggle to

demand the franchise for their gender, and particularly their class, they reproduced

their vision of social feminism. Teachers occupied a prom inent role in the leader -

ship and membership of social feminists, suffragists, and moral reformers. Through

the suffragist campaign, middle-class feminist visions of moral reform, patriarchy,

and gender also demanded further clarification of the definition of colonial citizen.

In the 1920s working-class students faced multiple challenges. The decade

witnessed growth in the professions that employed large concentrations of child

labor—tobacco, sugar, and needlework. At the same time, unemployment and

seasonal unemployment, in particular, rose. Rural workers, displaced from agricultural

work and in search of city jobs, migrated to urban areas at higher rates.

Migrants lived in overcrowded housing and labored in congested work spaces.

The lack of circulation in talleres (workshops), particularly tobacco, shoe, textile,

and bakeries, facilitated the spread of tuberculosis among workers. Labor

struggled against working and living conditions that contributed to the rise of

preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhea, tuberculosis, and anemia. In the face

of these material conditions, workers mobilized into labor unions (e.g., Feder -

ación Libre de Trabajadores) and political parties (e.g., Partido Socialista) in the

1920s, demanding improvements in labor and housing. Ultimately, throughout

the decade, laborers became increasingly disillusioned with the conservative re -

formism of their leadership. In the meantime, working-class parents and students

became targets of middle-class reformers. Teachers, in their quest to fulfill their

professional duty to create modern citizens, imagined the regeneration of working-class

families but especially sought to reorganize the practices of husbands

and wives through teachers’ particular visions of modern gender norms.

For teachers in the 1920s, the politics of colonial reform, cultural debates, and

moral reform were not simply academic exercises. These debates were at the core

94 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

of teachers’ daily practice in the classroom. The challenge of defining the new

colonial citizenship took center stage. Creating citizens was teachers’ primary

responsibility. Now that the permanency of Puerto Rico’s colonial status within

the US empire was more clearly established through the Jones Act and the acquisition

of US citizenship, how would this political framework shape colonial

schools? What were the rights and responsibilities of this new form of colonial

citizenship? How would it affect the teachers’ broader citizenship-building agenda?

And, more precisely, how would teachers contribute to the definition of colonial

citizenship? In the tradition of autonomist politics, teachers found ways to define

the new colonial citizenship while also affirming a Puerto Rican identity within

the parameters of US colonialism.

In the 1920s school debates, one of the principal methods for defining the

promises and limits of the new colonial citizenship was through debates over

gender and patriarchy. Teachers articulated their citizenship-building project,

which was grounded on the relationship between home, school, and patria and

the practice of modern education, by defining gender roles and modern patriarchy

within Puerto Rican society. The 1920s debates among teachers highlighted

three lines of argument. First, teachers who were liberal reformers found

ways to embrace what they saw as progressive, liberal, and regenerative in the

redefined colonial relationship, the new colonial citizenship, and modern education.

Teachers imagined that the young men who joined the Porto Rican Regiment

and the young girls who were introduced to coed physical education

classes were engaging in regenerative opportunities granted by a liberal and modern

colonial government. Second, educators who were radical reformers found

greater promise than ever in the regeneration of Puerto Rican families through

the process of Americanization. In the tradition of proannexationist ideology,

Commissioner Juan B. Huyke, for example, believed that the modern and scientific

practices that undergirded Americanization ideology in the 1920s promised

to instruct working-class mothers in healthy and eugenic mothering practices. In

effect, Americanization could help liberate the contemporary child from allegedly

“backward” mothering practices. Third, conservative educators and parents re -

jected some of the gender reforms promoted by liberal reformers and tried to

reimpose what they considered more traditional norms. Liberal teachers faced a

conservative backlash. The conservative critique not only targeted the modern

education of young girls but also criticized a new generation of female teachers.

In the 1920s, therefore, education debates reflected a broader anxiety over

changing gender norms. The island’s emerging women’s social movement challenged

the assumed authority of the older generation of male teachers and the

dominance of patriarchy within the teaching profession. Working-class women

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 95

unapologetically claimed their rights in public spaces as labor organizers and suffragists.

Middle-class women swelled professional ranks. In addition to teaching,

they emerged as leaders in social work and nursing. 8 As women organized and

claimed public spaces, educators debated what they feared were newly emerging

gender crises: men’s masculinity during World War I, physical education instruction

for boys and girls, and the example set by women as teachers of rural schools.

These moments of crisis allowed for a broadening of the definition of appropriate

roles for women in the 1920s. Nevertheless, the debates highlighted the limits

of incorporating new gender roles for women and served to reinforce patriarchy

within the profession.

The 1920s debates over education and schools, therefore, highlight the competing

visions of colonial citizenship and gender. They also allow us to examine

how teachers, as intermediate actors in the colonial hierarchy, contributed

to the definition of colonial citizenship for all Puerto Ricans. This was a definition

that, in the tradition of autonomist ideology and practice in the early twentieth

century, affirmed the uniqueness, difference, and promise of a Puerto Rican

identity within the limits and boundaries of US colonialism. The contribution of

this chapter, therefore, is to show how teachers—as historical actors other than

elite intellectuals and politicians—also contributed to early twentieth-century

conversations about the new colonial citizenship granted in 1917. This chapter

also notes that at the core of the definition of the new colonial citizen and

the modern school lay the contested definitions of gender, families, and homes.

Through the debates over the citizenship-building project of schools in 1920s

Puerto Rico, from the location of the colony, and as they questioned traditional

gender norms, teachers were making their contribution to the practice of “imperial


Illiteracy, Masculinity, and War

Illiteracy was at the core of debates over the right to exercise the franchise, capacity

for US citizenship, and potential for self-government. Puerto Rico’s illiteracy

rate in 1899 was 80 percent. For US colonial officials, high illiteracy rates helped

legitimize the founding of US colonialism. Both US colonial officials and elite

Puerto Rican politicians questioned the capacity of illiterates to fully participate

in government. 9 When universal male suffrage was reinstated in 1904, Puerto

Rican elites feared losing control over the colonial government to the interests

of the working class. 10 The proannexation Partido Republicano proposed that,

once illiteracy was reduced to 29 percent, it would move forward with a petition

for incorporation into the US federation of states. The liberal Partido Unión

96 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

characterized illiteracy as a “social evil.” Although bourgeois female suffragists in

the 1920s demanded the right to vote for their gender, they were divided over

whether to support this right for illiterate women. 11 Literacy was a privilege of

the elite, despite the rapid growth in colonial schools and the new access education

granted to girls and the working class more broadly in the early 1900s and

1910s. 12 Adult men and women were the least served by colonial schools.

The debates over literacy as a measure of capacity for citizenship, as a stepping

stone toward self-government, and as a measure of the progress, modernity,

and civilization of Puerto Rico took center stage between 1917 and 1919. When

newspapers reported that the majority of men who volunteered to join the Porto

Rican Regiment during World War I were rejected due to illiteracy, a crisis

ensued. 13 The 1910 census reported that the island’s illiteracy rate had dropped

to 65 percent, but in 1917 a larger percentage of rural adult men who had registered

for the draft had been rejected. 14 If the majority of adult men were, in fact,

illiterate and failed to meet that basic requirement of citizenship, teachers asked,

how could they fulfill the duties of the newly granted US citizenship? Literacy

and military service were duties, not privileges, of citizenship. What did these

military rejection rates imply about literacy in Puerto Rico? Were illiteracy rates

higher than had been reported? Was public school attendance a privilege for children

that excluded adults? Was there a regional division? In 1910 79 percent of

Puerto Ricans lived in rural areas. Had the colonial Department of Education, by

founding most schools in urban centers, failed to address the demands for public

instruction where it was most urgently needed—the countryside? The illiteracy

rates among men who volunteered to join the Porto Rican Regiment brought

to light the limited reach of public schools in 1917. When Puerto Ricans were

granted US citizenship, colonial officials, teachers, and parents demanded urgent

attention to teaching literacy. The crisis surrounding adult men’s capacity for

citizenship that the military rejections generated became a practice in defining

colonial citizenship in the late 1910s.

Before the war, the successes and failures of the colonial Department of Educa -

tion in Puerto Rico were measured first and foremost by illiteracy rates. 15 Colonial

administrators had proposed the argument that literacy through English-language

instruction had to be intensified in order to create US citizens out of colonial subjects.

Assistant Commissioner of Education Carey Hickle proudly declared that

in 1917, now that the Jones Act had been approved, “the chief business of the

school is to produce . . . good citizens.” 16 US colonial officials saw the path to liter -

acy and to fulfilling requirements of citizenship through English-language instruc -

tion. For them, the English language and literacy were at the core of definitions of

US citizenship. While the education scholarship has condemned commissioners

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 97

for their English-language policies, in fact, in the 1910s and 1920s they were

careful to balance English- and Spanish-language instruction. The intention was

to promote English while “conserving” Spanish. 17 This approach assumed that

Spanish would remain important on the island but subordinate to English. Never -

theless, the teaching of English to a Spanish-speaking people in an unincorporated

colonial territory was a practice in further consolidating the colonial relationship

between the island and the United States and reinforcing the assumed superiority

of Americans over Puerto Ricans.

Improving literacy rates, however, meant many more things within Puerto

Rican debates. First, illiteracy rates allowed teachers to critique what they perceived

to be the failure of the US colonial Department of Education to satisfy

the popular demands of the pueblo for education. The colonial government had

not been able to expand quickly enough. It needed to build more schools and

train and hire more teachers to educate more children! Newspaper articles

declared: “To acquire success what is needed is money, money, and money.

Schools, schools, and more schools.” 18 Attaining literacy and access to education

was not an imperial imposition. Instead, it was demanded by parents and students.

Sadly, the US colonial Department of Education, many complained, nineteen

years after the United States invaded and occupied the island, had failed to

meet that demand. 19 This was a critique of the capacity of the colonial government

to fulfill the declared promises of “benevolent imperialism.”

Second, some used low literacy rates to condemn what they saw as the US

colonial administrators’ misguided imperial mission in Puerto Rico. The emphasis

on using English as the language of instruction, as part of the grander

Americanization vision, was wasting valuable time. Most children only attended

school for three years. This was too short an amount of time to waste on teaching

English when teachers could be teaching literacy in Spanish in addition to more

practical topics like home economics, hygiene, agriculture, and so on. 20 The US

colonial officials’ unrealistic prioritization of English-language instruction had

in the end failed to at least teach literacy, and, therefore, it had undermined

Puerto Rican students’ path toward citizenship. 21 These critiques of the work of

the colonial Department of Education, nevertheless, were also a practice in reinforcing

Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship to the United States, for by advocating

for the intensification and expansion of schools, teachers and parents were also

contributing to the consolidation of a colonial school project that would further

incorporate Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens of the US empire.

Nevertheless, local calls for improved literacy were not always tied to US colonialism.

Some educators and parents demanded the eradication of illiteracy in

the name of the progress and modernity of Puerto Rico’s “civilization.” José C.

98 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

Díaz, Comerío’s school board president, argued that it was “time for us to fight

to erase that stigma [illiteracy] that belittles us to civilized nations.” 22 For the

good of the patria, teachers demanded the intense cultivation of culture and dignity,

which began with the acquisition of literacy. Díaz concluded: “We would

be sinning for lacking patriotism, if we did not fight to extirpate the evil that

harms us and that presents us to the world with such a high percentage of illiterates

like a country that lacks true and ample culture.” 23 Carlos Rivera Ufret, secretary

of the AMPR, rivaled Díaz’s patriotism when he called on teachers and

other literate persons to “demonstrate to the illiterate the necessity of becoming

instructed not only for their own well-being but in order to contribute by giving

a more honorable seal and pride to our race and our beloved land.” 24 Teachers

wanted to generate pride in representations of Puerto Rican men abroad to

the imagined audience of modern and scientific educators in the United States,

Europe, and Latin America. This was a reflection of teachers’ vision of self

(the magisterio) as modern and cosmopolitan, mediated through the shame and

embarrassment over the “degeneracy” of working-class adult illiterates.

Three months after granting Puerto Ricans US citizenship in 1917, the United

States entered the great world war. The US military called on men to join the

US Army through the segregated Porto Rican Regiment and to “do their bit.” 25

Military service was a crucible. Puerto Rican men, categorized as colonial subjects

for the past eighteen years, had just been granted a restricted form of US

citizenship and were called to demonstrate their commitment to the empire by

serving in the military during wartime. This was an important moment for the

intensification of autonomist ideology on the island, for choosing to participate

in military service in a colonial regiment reinforced the island’s subordinate relationship

to the United States. It was, at the same time, an opportunity to assert

the capacity of Puerto Rican men for citizenship: 236,000 men registered for

the draft; out of these, 18,000 men were accepted and served. “More than onehalf

of the teaching force [entered] into the service of the United States as either

officers or soldiers.” 26

A crisis in the definitions of masculinity and citizenship ensued when the

public learned that 75 percent of the volunteers had been rejected from Camp

Las Casas not only for failing to meet the US Army’s literacy requirements but

also for failing to meet its physical standards. The rejection of so many adult

men, particularly rural men, because they failed to pass their physicals generated

a new category in public debates about the definition of colonial citizenship:

“physical illiteracy.” 27 The military recruits were doubly illiterate when they failed

to meet both literacy and physical requirements. The spectacle of physical illiterates

had two immediate consequences: a debate over the most effective ways to

“Hermanos Irizarry” (The Irizarry brothers), 1925. The caption reads: “Yauco

holds the honor of being the only town on the island that offered the US Army

four officers who were brothers during the great world war. They are here today

to serve in whatever emergency may arise. Their ranks are Luis Antonio Irizarry,

Lieutenant Colonel of the National Guard and the Reserve; Eustaquio Irizarry,

First Lieutenant of the Reserve; Plinio Irizarry, Second Lieutenant of the

Reserve; Eustasio Irizarry, Second Lieutenant of the Reserve.” The two eldest

brothers were teachers at the time they participated in World War I. In 1917 Luis

Antonio was the supervisor of schools in Aguadilla and served as captain.

Eustaquio was an English graded teacher in Yauco and a second lieutenant. The

youngest brother, Eustasio, was enrolled as a student in Yauco’s “Continuation

School” when he went off to war as a lieutenant (Masini et al., Historia ilustrada

de Yauco; “Roll of Honor: Schoolmen of Porto Rico in the Military Service,”

PRSR 3, no. 1 [September 1918]: 41–50).

100 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

reconstruct the Puerto Rican “man” and a popular movement in support of literacy

campaigns. 28 The concern about overcoming the physical illiteracy of adult

men, in particular, also reflected the gendered construction of the category of

“citizen” in the 1910s and 1920s.

The concept of the physical illiteracy of the male military volunteer touched

on existing anxieties in Puerto Rican debates over the island’s “culture,” levels of

degeneracy, and limits of modernity. Teachers saw in the military rejection rates

an opportunity to advance their agenda for citizenship building by focusing on

penetrating the campo (rural areas) as intensely as possible. The physical illiterates

represented everything teachers were trying to overcome through modern

education. They encapsulated the worst effects of “traditionalism” within rural

communities and the Spanish colonial heritage of neglect of the countryside.

The masas ignorantes (ignorant masses) were slowing down the island’s ability

to catapult into modernity and fully embrace progress. Military rejection rates

confirmed how the physical state of Puerto Rican men was “degenerate.” Here

was proof that the tropical climate and the isolation of the highlands forced the

degeneration of the mythic founding “Latin race.”

The concept of physical illiteracy, in fact, complemented teachers’ already

existing assumptions about rural communities. The isolation of rural society,

from the urban teacher’s perspective, generated little value for literacy, schooling,

and modern forms of parenting and homemaking. 29 Genaro Concepción, who

was providing an update in the PRSR on the “war work” activities of teachers in

Luquillo and Fajardo, offered a sympathetic yet paternalistic reflection on the

jíbaros’ condition:

He lives today as his ancestors did many years ago; as innocent as a child, with complete

lack of knowledge of events that occur outside of his island, stuck to the land

that he irrigates with sweat, and like the pariah of the Middle Ages, he has not

an inch in which to dig his tomb; . . . he lives in a miserable bohío that looks more

like a big bird’s nest rather than human housing, his children barefoot, hungry, and

ragged. And the reward for a long-suffering and laborious life? When he reaches

old age he finds he must go to the towns to beg for public charity so as not to die of

hunger and destitution. 30

Sadly, teachers argued, jíbaros were a contemporary representation of the past

with little to contribute to the modern nation-building and citizenship-building

efforts of Puerto Rico’s liberal progressives.

Thankfully, educators like Concepción argued, the physical illiteracy of jíbaros

was the result of their environment—the highlands, the home, the farm—and was

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 101

therefore subject to change and regeneration. The war, US citizenship, and military

service could be the catalyst for that change. The war, therefore, was a great

opportunity for jíbaro men to evolve. Through military training, jíbaros could be

exposed to methods, practices, and experiences they would not otherwise have


In the Puerto Rican countryside an unexpected transformation is taking place

that is completely altering the destiny of our jíbaros. What once was tranquility and

apathy today is activity and concerted effort; what once was submission and weakness

is now patriotism and courageousness. . . . It seems that a new Messiah has

spoken in the ear of our jíbaro the magic words surge et ambula [rise and move forward],

and to the enchantment of that solemn order he shakes off the traditionalism

that weighs on his conscience, like an immense lead slab, and presents himself

to America as a new man capable of all sacrifices and renunciations. What magic

wand has caused this resurrection? War. 31

In the meantime, those men who had not been accepted into military service

were also being pulled out of the backwater of rural areas, Concepción reported,

as they were being asked to contribute to the intensified food production efforts

during the war. Finally, once the war was over, military recruits could return to the

island and serve as models of labor and leadership to those jíbaros left behind. 32

For Concepción this was a great opportunity for regeneration, the regeneration

of local men who contributed military service to the US empire.

Teachers imagined that reversing the illiteracy of rural adults, however, required

intense effort and support from the entire community. They called on the legisla -

ture, politicians, and even US colonial officials to support their initiatives by fund -

ing literacy campaigns. 33 After all, adult rural illiterate men, educators reminded

legislators, had the right to vote in insular elections. Literacy was at the core of the

right to vote, of the rights of citizenship, of the immediate direction of local politics.

Teachers offered a series of proposals for urgently and systematically attacking

the “social evil” of illiteracy and demanded that legislators and the colonial

Department of Education support them. More rural schools should be founded

and more teachers trained and hired. But in addition, new legislation must allow

for compulsory school attendance for children, harsh penalties for parents who

kept children out of school, and mandatory night school attendance for adult illiterates.

Luis García Casanova, winning author of the 1918 AMPR annual literary

contest, argued that the legislature should fund a “school police force” responsible

for conducting a census of illiterate adult men ages seventeen to fifty. The

men could then be forced to attend night school. The school police could also

102 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

enforce children’s compulsory school attendance during the day and persecute

those parents who took children out of school to labor in the fields or factories. 34

In this early 1917 literacy campaign, teachers designated rural parents and land -

owners as equally culpable for illiteracy in rural areas. While they called on the

colonial state to legislate mandatory school attendance for children and adults,

and they imagined rural landowners were hindering literacy by forcing children

to work in the fields instead of attending school, teachers did not offer a broader

critique of the island’s colonial economy: agricultural production for export, the

expansion of light manufacturing, and the corresponding processes of the proletarianization

and loss of land for small farmers. 35 Teachers were more critical of

the parents who pulled children out of schools than of the rural elite who hired

them. When teachers did offer a critique of the rural elite, they called for reform

of specific child labor practices rather than of colonialism more broadly. 36 The

exception to this conservative critique of colonial economics was José Padín.

During his brief appointment as assistant commissioner of education in 1917, he

offered a critique of US colonialism, the granting of US citizenship, and the labor

practices that reinforced colonialism and reproduced dire living conditions for the

working class. 37 However, this was likely the type of explicit critique that schoolteachers

would have been censured for sharing publicly.

Teachers were not alone in their mission. Island legislators also proposed a

series of projects to support literacy campaigns in 1919. They were guided by the

fear that the 1920 census might document little progress in literacy for adult men,

particularly now that they had acquired US citizenship. 38 And reducing literacy

was a concern that the colonial reformist leadership of the Partido Unión, Partido

Republicano, and Partido Socialista shared in the late 1910s. Fear of the illiteracy

of adult men in the age of universal male suffrage demanded forming difficult

alliances and coalitions in the late 1910s and 1920s. 39 Three legislators proposed

a bill to found a Universidad Popular, or People’s University, which could contribute

to the specific goal of teaching literacy while also offering conferences

and lectures by local political leaders and educators on contemporary matters. 40

Other legislative proposals requested $20,000 to be distributed as cash prizes for

teachers and students who taught literacy in their spare time. 41 A call was made to

fund a Liga de Instrucción para Analfabetos (League for the Education of Illiterates)

to combat the “army of illiterates . . . crucifying our land with its ignorance.” 42

These proposals resonated with teachers’ initiatives. Educators like Carlos Rivera

Ufret called on eighth-grade graduates, “as proof of civic responsibility and . . .

interest in . . . our people . . . and gratitude to our patria,” to take the initiative to

establish night schools and teach adults literacy. “It is worth us making the sacrifice

for the good of our poor class and for the pride of our country!” 43

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 103

The initiatives proposed by teachers, legislators, and concerned community

members imagined the regeneration of the large number of physical illiterates

that came to light during the recruitment efforts of World War I. In their proposals,

historical actors engaged in two interconnected conversations. As they

proposed ways to support literacy campaigns “to teach them [jíbaros, adult male

illiterates] how to live as men and as citizens,” they were at the same time further

inscribing themselves and their initiatives in support of the colonial form of US

citizenship they had just been granted. 44 Overcoming illiteracy and regenerating

the physicality of rural men were at the heart of local intentions to create healthier

and more “cultured” male citizens. Teachers identified this to be a minimal

re quirement of citizenship, a marker of progress, culture, and civility among modern

nations. The teachers’ campaign, however, lacked a critique of the colonial

limitations of the franchise and of the colonial and subordinate relationship that

military volunteers reproduced through military service. The 1917–19 literacy

debates, nevertheless, allowed teachers to promote the regeneration of adult men,

for the good of Puerto Rico, within the limits of US colonialism.

Gender and Physical Education

The spectacle of the physical illiteracy of Puerto Rican men during the World

War I registration campaign, in fact, generated long-term consequences for the

colonial school curriculum. In addition to the more immediate demands for literacy

campaigns, it led to a transformation in the definition and practice of physical

education. 45 Organized athletics and sports, especially baseball, had been part

of high school sports culture, particularly in larger urban towns. However, as

awareness emerged in the 1920s of the “presence of so many physically abnormal

children” and the fear of a “cataclysm of physical degeneration” of students’ bodies,

teachers began to advocate for the expansion of physical education for all students.

46 The transition to a “modern” version of physical education was imagined

to be a requirement for establishing a “foundation for citizenship.” Modern physical

education, with its intention to create healthy citizens, was meant to reach

beyond select athletes to the general student body and to be equally accessible

to both boys and girls. While educators agreed about the value of creating “perfect

citizens” in Puerto Rico, the coeducation aspect raised some reservations. 47

Should young girls be allowed to take physical education classes, where they might

be wearing athletic clothing, alongside boys, in the outdoors, under the sun? The

debate over how much access to grant girls became a conversation about the

limits of modern school practices in colonial schools. In the 1920s, as educators

debated the transition from athletics to physical education for the “good of the

104 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

patria” and with the intention to create citizens, they were also engaging in the

process of defining the limits of the “modern girl” and “proper motherhood.”

The physical education movement was not embraced with the same urgency

and enthusiasm as the literacy campaign of the late 1910s. The educators who ad -

vo cated more aggressively for physical education, who employed a neo-Lamarckian

eugenic discourse, and who closely linked physical health and forming “perfect

citizens” were particularly represented within the leadership of the 1920s teaching

profession. In the 1920s a new generation of men, after working as teachers

and attaining higher education and training in the 1910s, moved into administrative

and leadership positions within the colonial Department of Education. They

became principals of municipal high schools, supervisors of school districts,

and directors of departments. Many had been long-term members or leaders

of the AMPR in the late 1910s. It was this group of educators—Gerardo Sellés

Solá, Pedro Gil, Julio Fiol Negrón, and Carlos V. Urrutia—who began to replace

US educators in the Department of Education. The department became increasingly

controlled by local educators, although it was under the leadership of Juan

B. Huyke, a commissioner who was adamantly pro-Americanization and pro-

English. The core elite of Puerto Rican educators assumed leadership of the phys -

ical education campaign in the 1920s. As they did so, they often considered the

average young teacher and parents as constituencies they had to educate about

the value of physical education and the urgency of this project for Puerto Rico.

The transition from athletics to physical education after the war was, first, about

definitions of citizenship. Yes, physical illiterates had raised the alarm about the

alleged “degeneracy” in the majority of the adult population. More importantly,

however, they had generated closer scrutiny of the health and hygiene of students.

In 1920 Pedro Gil, the principal and athletic director of Yauco High School,

appealed for a commitment to physical education on behalf of all teachers: “We

witnessed half of our young men rejected during the first recruitment due to

physical incapacity. [It] renders them incapable of carrying out military duties

and denies them the first obligation of all citizens—defense of country. Are we

educators to stand by and remain undaunted and immutable before such a terrible

reality? . . . Are we pretending to create a citizenry [pretendemos levantar un pueblo]

out of this anemic and scrawny raza, one that is prepared to stand proudly among

civilized nations?” 48 The “weakness” of “our raza,” represented in students’ bodies,

had to be overcome in the interest of creating healthy and robust citizens

for the patria. The health of the body was the foundation for the development of

moral and intellectual abilities. Gil concluded: “We have the moral obligation to

mold the future generation: . . . we must not forget for an instant physical education,

the foundation on which rests the rules of order that will make our men

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 105

strong so they may assume the fight in defense of the holy principles of universal

democracy.” 49

Student bodies not only represented the physical weakness of the raza. They

were also emblematic of social conditions that the middle-class teaching profession

feared and defined as working-class practices. These social behaviors, in

addi tion to the physical bodies, were targeted for rehabilitation in the 1920s.

Physical education courses, like the literacy campaigns, were intended as a cure

for the imagined debilitating and corruptive examples children might have been

exposed to in both their homes and public streets. Newspapers reported increases

in juvenile delinquency, lamented the spectacle of street children, and questioned

children’s participation in games that incorporated gambling (dice, dominoes,

horseracing, cockfighting, and even baseball). 50 The physical and moral instruction

students received in physical education courses, teachers argued, would help

students overcome those negative environmental influences, which could, in neo-

Lamarckian logic, otherwise prove corruptive for future generations.

Prewar athletic traditions, as a result, were characterized as decadente, generating

decay—traditional, elitist, and individualistic. The more physically fit students

were chosen to participate on high school and semiprofessional teams. They be -

came the “privileged” elite few who received attention and resources from coaches.

Municipal teams met once a year to compete in the Insular Annual Interscholastic

Athletic meet. 51 It was there, teachers argued, that observers could best identify

the stark differences between the few elite athletes and the majority of students:

“While we see teams of strong, robust children full of life and happiness who have

been mentored into the sport . . . we forget about the physically weak, scrawny,

diseased youth.” In the stands, the children’s “quiet weeping” fell on deaf ears as

the children witnessed the “wheel of progress” leaving them behind. 52

In addition, traditional “recreation” was feared to be organized around gambling.

Horseracing and cockfighting, in particular, were defined as corrupting

and immoral for young children. 53 Elite teachers identified these activities as part

of a colonial Spanish heritage that was failing to contribute to the contemporary

push for the regeneration of the citizenry. Physical education, as a counterpoint

to the traditional Spanish popular practices, was part of a modern health and

hygiene campaign. It was meant to be healthy, progressive, inclusive, and popular

and to generate a sense of community. Advocating for modern physical education,

therefore, required teachers to negotiate Spanish and US heritages, influences,

and visions.

US educators who came to the island to evaluate the state of athletics, physical

education, and leisure activities in the 1920s identified local traditional games as

the worst examples of Spanish elitism and gambling. 54 They juxtaposed these

106 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

Spanish practices with the best American ones, defined as democratic, inclusive,

modern, and progressive. Helen V. Bary’s assessment of the island’s “child

welfare” celebrated that schools were transitioning away from Spanish games.

Children were benefiting from the “transition from the old tradition of Spanish

aristocracy to that of American democracy—of universal participation and re -

sponsibility to community life.” 55 US educators’ definitions of appropriate physical

education curricula were exported from Columbia University to US colonies.

Visiting faculty from the United States traveled and shared experiences across

Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and they brought physical education course

books with them. The regeneration of colonial students through physical education

was part of a broader 1920s US imperial project.

In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, teachers offered more nuanced characterizations

of physical education. Yes, it was considered foundational for creating modern

citizens. And while the citizens they were creating were of a colonial type, teachers

were explicit that they were advocating the creation of well-rounded citizens

for the good of their patria and their country, which in the 1920s they identified

to be Puerto Rico, not the United States. Ismael Ramos, a physical education

teacher from Mayagüez, reported, “One of my life dreams had always been to

have the opportunity of offering the youth of my country, this little Island, the

means of acquiring a well-developed body which may serve as a basis for future

generations, for every learned person knows that the mind cannot attain its full -

est development in all its activities unless it is within a well-developed body.” 56

The potential for witnessing progress and achieving modernity, as seen through

the healthy regeneration of students’ bodies, therefore, was not a simple exercise

of teachers embracing Americanization practices. Instead, it was a deliberate nego -

tiation of the aspects of modern education theory that they identified as important

for the regeneration of Puerto Rico’s students, for the good of the country.

This was an example of autonomist ideology in practice, as teachers chose to

advocate for physical education within colonial schools as a modern practice that

was particularly relevant to local conditions.

How did teachers intend to implement physical education and its broader citizenship-building

goals? The primary goal was to make it accessible to the majority

of the students. First, teachers advocated the training and hiring of instructors

specially trained in physical education and for making it a mandatory course. 57

Baseball and track-and-field coaches, educators feared, were invested in the success

of their semiprofessional teams at the expense of teaching greater lessons,

like sportsmanship. And as the director of the new Physical Education Department

explained, educators feared that many maestras inexpertas (inexperienced teachers)

simply lacked training and preparation to effectively teach physical education. 58

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 107

As a result of the elite teachers’ campaign for the expansion of physical education

and the support and collaboration of the colonial Department of Education,

a new generation of physical education instructors was trained, hired, and

deployed throughout the public schools. The Department of Education hired ten

physical education instructors in the 1920s, but only one was female. 59 Those

who were recruited and trained as physical education instructors epitomized the

ideal modern man—athlete, veteran, teacher. The Faberllé brothers best exemplified

this example. Before the war, they were famous athletes. Ciqui and Fabito

Faberllé were two of the four most well known baseball players of the time; the

group was known as los cuatro jinetes del beisbol (the four leaders of baseball). 60

During the war they served in the Porto Rican Regiment and were members of

the regiment’s baseball team. After the war they were recruited into the physical

education training program at the University of Puerto Rico. They represented

the best example of intellectual, moral, and physical development. 61 This idealized

modern man was imagined to be capable of leading the physical illiterate out

of the past into the present through the teaching of physical education.

Advocating for mandatory physical education, however, was greater than the

physical education classes themselves. It was about applying neo-Lamarckian

eugenic ideology in support of the sanitation and hygiene of public spaces and

the home. Teachers called for the founding of public parks where students could

play “healthy” games under the supervision of teachers. 62 The curriculum should

also provide for organized leisure activities. The modern methods of physical

education, which included supervised outdoor play, were meant to replace the

unsupervised time children spent in public spaces, which Sellés Solá and others

feared exposed children to “social vices” (gambling, drinking, smoking, and prostitution)

and led potentially to the degeneration of future generations of the raza:

“Let us raise strong generations, proud of this condition and inclined to conserve

it, giving them a pure and moral life, and an adequate mental cultivation. Let us

form the perfect home, the happy home. Our patria will thus become great thanks

to the health, purity, intelligence, and hard work of its sons.” 63

While literacy campaigns generated popular support, parents proved less

than enthusiastic about the modern practice of physical education. Elite teachers

expected parents to contribute to the physical education movement in multiple

ways. The propertied classes should donate plots of land to be developed into

public parks or athletic fields. The less-wealthy parents, at the very least, should

support teachers’ efforts to expose their children to modern methods of sports

and recreation. However, elite teachers were hard-pressed to understand why

all parents were not enthusiastic about physical education. Some teachers even

lacked empathy for those parents who asked for their children to be excused from

108 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

physical education classes because their participation was wearing down the children’s

clothing and shoes. Carlos Urrutia, a leading member of the AMPR recently

appointed to the newly created position of superintendent of physical education

in 1921, considered this a small sacrifice: “Who cares if they break a pair of shoes?

That is insignificant. The health and happiness of the family make up for such

small losses.” 64 In his fervor for physical education, Urrutia failed to understand

the economic challenges working-class parents faced in the 1920s. They struggled

to provide clothing for their children so that they could attend school. 65

In particular, educators were dismissive of those they identified as “conservative

parents,” characterized as “incredulous” and from a “past era” who opposed

the modernization and diversification of school curriculum. These parents were

particularly concerned about girls’ access to physical education. When parents

wrote notes to teachers requesting that their daughters be exempted from physical

education classes, teachers sometimes assumed that parents did so because of

their “traditional” and “conservative” thinking about girls’ and women’s roles. 66

Parents were concerned about coed physical education classes in high schools.

They were not interested in having their girls running around public plazas and

playgrounds under the glaring sun. For some educators, it was these conservative

parents’ traditional characterization of women’s role in the community and family

that had to be overcome. While Puerto Rican educators experienced “some difficulties”

in their campaign to expand physical education, they felt particularly challenged

by the “old customs and traditions of the people, who expect for their girls,

not the sturdy, hardy type of Anglo-Saxon womanhood, but rather a medieval

type of girl, light-skinned, sweet, delicate, brittle, romantic, and highly sensitive.” 67

Elite teachers identified this conflict and resistance as parental misunderstandings

about traditional versus modern definitions of “proper womanhood.” Teachers

countered conservative parents by deploying the 1920s ideology of social

feminism. Julio Fiol Negrón, the new supervisor of physical education in 1928,

argued in support of girls’ right to physical education. Girls “have a right to the

sports and amusements of the world just as they have a share in the tears and toils

of life.” On the one hand, girls had to develop their health and strength in order

to succeed in their future occupations. More women than ever were employed

outside the home. As “a rival of man in the world’s work . . . the occasions for

her to use physical strength have multiplied, whether she be in a room facing fifty

pupils, or typewriting, selling, curing, giving legal advice, or laboring in field or

factory.” These labors required physical strength and “vigor.” On the other hand,

he reproduced the biological differences between men and women. Girls also had

the right to develop healthy bodies to prepare them to fulfill their “earthly mission

in this world, bearing and rearing children.” Elite educators like Fiol Negrón

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 109

defined women’s appropriate roles in public and private spaces within the modern

patriarchy of early twentieth-century Puerto Rico and argued that they too were

“entitled to the privileges of a complete education.” Girls’ rights to physical education,

their right to overcome conservative parents’ apprehension about modern

girls’ practices in colonial schools, were rationalized within the parameters

of local patriarchy. The visions for the modern girl were neither a US imposition

nor revolutionary. They were, nevertheless, social feminist visions about the new

requirements for a modern and liberal Puerto Rico.

In the 1920s the directors of the newly founded Department of Physical Education

oversaw its expansion through the hiring of specialized teachers and the

broadening of the curriculum. A special section was created in the education journal

(PRSR) to promote the activities and goals of physical education in the classroom.

The intention of the articles and the images published in the section was to

educate teachers on the value of physical education and to suggest the best methods

through which to promote it. The images published in the PRSR, with the

intention to promote physical education for girls, suggest how educators struggled

to balance appropriate practices that supported their definition of the new,

modern schoolgirl. Some of the images were typical of those that might have represented

US physical education classes in the 1920s—high school girls wearing

knee-length shorts or skirts and kneesocks, running track, stretching in organized

rows, or playing basketball. Other images, however, represented island-specific

interpretations of acceptable female domesticity promoted through schools.

For example, in the November 1926 edition, teacher Generosa Fernández wrote

an article introducing the US-based organization founded in 1912 known as

the Girl Scouts. In the article, Fernández defined the intention of the organization

to be threefold: to introduce girls to natural and healthy outdoor activities

that help develop body and mind; to provide them with the skills to become

responsible homemakers; and to serve the community. The goals of the Girl

Scouts fit perfectly within the social feminist vision that women could be educated

to become more efficient and modern in their homemaking and civic duties.

However, the image that accompanied Fernández’s article highlighted a more

traditional interpretation of appropriate activities for young girls as they were

promoted through physical education coursework in 1920s Puerto Rico. It was

a photograph of the young women who were members of the Future Mothers’

League in the Juncos public schools. The Girl Scouts’ mission was progressive, as

it imagined women’s civic duties in the community and the practice of physical

activity in the outdoors. The acceptable local version of women’s clubs, however,

emphasized training young girls in the required skills for their primary responsibility

as mothers. 68

110 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

A second popular image in the physical education section of the PRSR presented

children engaged in folk dance. Elizabeth Lutes, an instructor of “natural

dancing,” promoted teaching dance to children as a form of physical and intellectual

expression: “Dancing does not mean only that one is able to move in time

to music. It means a finer understanding of emotional expression, a free, uninhibited

use of the intellect.” Dancing was an “intellectual activity worthy of a prominent

place in physical education.” 69 It was also acceptable within local schools, for

it complemented local views that women were more delicate, refined, and artistic

than men. Folk dancing, in particular, was a method that helped local girls develop

their feminine, rather than feminist, characteristics. The folk dances taught in

schools in the 1920s originated from Europe rather than the island or the Carib -

bean region. The photograph that accompanied Lutes’s natural dance article captured

the work of a first-grade teacher from Carolina, Esperanza Cuín. Cuín’s class

posed for a photograph that exhibited their mastery over a French minuet.

By the late 1920s, elite teachers could proudly report that, after their campaigns

in local communities, parents were fortunately beginning to “awaken.” They were

Schoolchildren dancing a minuet in Carolina, Puerto Rico, 1927 (Elizabeth Lutes,

“Natural Dancing,” PRSR 11, no. 9 [May 1927]: 39–41).

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 111

no longer, through their conservative and traditional biases, inhibiting the progress

of colonial schools. Young girls as well as boys would reap the benefits of modern

physical education with the support of their enlightened parents: “Parents and

teachers are today in agreement that the school cannot generate character, that

is, cannot fulfill the essential goal of education, as long as we are not instilling in

the child the habits of play and physical development, disciplining his will, molding

good hearts and perfect citizens.” 70

Building from the momentum for “regeneration” that came from the World

War I rejection rates, teachers linked physical education, modern practices, and

citizenship building. Teachers imagined that fulfilling the requirements of colonial

citizenship required a gendered reconstruction of boys and girls through

the schools. Overcoming physical illiteracy, while initially focused on adult men’s

alleged degenerate physical bodies and illiteracy, also meant redefining women’s

roles in schools and modern society. If women were to carry out their complementary

roles as wife/mother/educator, then teachers also had to address girls’

physical illiteracy. Regenerating girls’ health, exposing them to modern methods

of physical education, leisure, and recreation above and beyond the reservations

of conservative parents, was one way teachers could generate modern colonial

citizens in the 1920s.

Maestras inexpertas (Inexperienced Teachers)

As educators continued to define the parameters of the newly granted colonial

citizenship in the 1920s, they also raised questions about the promises and limits

of women as teachers. Urrutia’s brief reference to the problems of the maestras

inexpertas affecting the success of physical education was only the tip of the iceberg.

Definitions of women’s practices and contributions were meant to establish

the boundaries of progress and modernity in the school project and beyond.

In the 1920s the male leadership of the teaching profession assumed the authority

to define colonial citizenship and the goal of regenerating the raza. Literacy,

hygiene, and schools were increasingly identified as core elements in the creation

of modern, yet colonial, citizens.

The 1920s, however, was also a moment when large gender and generational

shifts within the teaching profession were becoming increasingly evident. The

number of classrooms expanded, the total number of children attending schools

grew, and a new, younger generation of teachers joined the force. They were a

combination of eighth-grade or high school graduates who qualified to teach in

rural schools and graduates of the University of Puerto Rico certified to teach

special topics in urban high schools. Since 1898, more women and more nonelite

112 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

students in general gained access to public instruction than they had in the late

nineteenth century. Twenty years later, as the department grew and as the people’s

demand to access public instruction multiplied, these young women, many from

intermediate class backgrounds, became the majority of the teaching profession.

In 1920 70.4 percent of all teachers were female. By 1930 the percentage had grown

to 74.5.

Despite these demographic changes within the ranks, the AMPR leadership

in the 1920s was solidly older and male. Women ran and organized several of

the committees within the AMPR, and a few women—like Beatriz Lasalle and

Carlota Matienzo—were elected to the board of directors. 71 Nevertheless, as a

professional organization, the public leadership of the AMPR in the 1920s reproduced

a fundamentally patriarchal order. An older male leadership claimed

their authority to define the political and ideological direction of the AMPR.

On the one hand, they promoted policies such as physical education that were

defined as modern and progressive, for they were intended to be democratic,

popular, and inclusive of all students, including women. On the other hand, there

was a limit to the leadership’s celebration of modern gender norms. This limit

was most explicit when they reflected on the labor of young female teachers in

the classroom. In the background, informing the conservative positions of the

AMPR leadership, was the dramatic emergence of women in public spaces as

labor leaders and suffragists.

Older male educators feared that young female teachers might simultaneously

undermine the creation of strong male citizens and provide a negative example

for other women. Female teachers were critical for the reconstruction of the home

and mother and were imagined to be the best examples for working-class and

rural girls to model themselves after. They were, therefore, at the heart of the in -

tentions of modern home economics instruction. But female teachers were also

assigned to teach outside of that topic. Often a female teacher was the sole teacher

appointed to attend to a new rural school. In that capacity, reservations emerged

about the inherent limits of women’s contributions, as teachers, to the citizenshipbuilding

project. Female teachers could mold the modern homemaker, but mold

the modern man? These reservations highlighted the gendered definition of a

modern citizen within the teaching profession. They also spoke to the generational

differences within it.

Several crises in the late 1910s, including illiteracy rates and military rejections,

forced the reassessment of the colonial Department of Education’s strategies

in the 1920s. Teachers called for the department to address the communities

with the greatest needs—rural communities. The early and rapid growth of the

colonial department in the first twenty years focused on cities—the building of

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 113

modern concrete schools to replace wooden schoolhouses and the construction

of modern high schools in the larger and more populous municipalities. But the

1917 reports had been particularly negative about rural men. That the majority of

military volunteers were rural adult men might have reflected the rural-to-urban

migration of the time. In 1920 Puerto Rico was 78 percent rural. Leading educators

declared that rural children, the rural home, and rural communities should

receive the urgent attention of teachers. The 1919 AMPR president, José Gon -

zález Ginorio, called on teachers to awaken to the urgency of rural education:

“Inspire yourselves in the Association so that you can carry out the holy mission

that has been entrusted to you: the education of the Puerto Rican peasant. Your

task is the hardest, most important, the biggest, the most difficult, the only one that

truly involves all types of sacrifices, the most humble for being the most ignored,

but the only one that will truly determine the regeneration of our people.” 72

This was the combination of events that raised the question of the appropriate

roles of female teachers in modern rural schools. Rural students required the

focused attention of modern teachers for their reconstruction and regeneration—

for them to overcome the alleged physical and intellectual illiteracy of the countryside.

The building of rural schools intensified in the 1920s. But more young

women than men were entering the teaching profession. More women, then,

were in charge of rural schools. Could the citizenship-building project be carried

out successfully if it was left in the hands of these young women? Did young

urban women have the ability, strength, capacity, and commitment to undertake

the challenges of rural schools? Or were female teachers, ultimately, undermining

the process by which young boys became modern men? Alternatively, were

female teachers, because of the assumed biological limitations of their sex, losing

their femininity through their labor in this public space and, therefore, providing

a bad example for rural girls? Although the AMPR membership supported

women’s suffrage—one of the more vocal political movements in 1920s Puerto

Rico—the male leadership of the AMPR and other older male teachers, nevertheless,

expressed these concerns. 73

Parents and teachers were disappointed with the colonial Department of Education

and what they saw as the slow progress of schools and literacy. Theirs

was a critique about the allegedly benevolent imperial intentions of the colonial

department. Meanwhile, the department leadership—Commissioner Paul G.

Miller and Assistant Commissioner Carey Hickle—disagreed with the popular

complaints. While they were also unhappy with the measured progress of colonial

schools, they staunchly stood behind the policies and practices of the colonial

administration in the face of public critiques. Therefore, US administrators identified

the new teachers, “young and immature boys and girls,” who were running

114 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

the newly founded rural schools as the problem. Hickle was concerned that this

new generation did not represent the “right kind of teacher.” He feared they were

a young cohort “with wrong ideas and false hopes” and with professional qualifications

that were “little short of alarming.” “The inexperienced boys and girls”

were “city born and reared and received their education in urban schools.” The

new rural teachers lacked knowledge of the specific conditions and needs of rural

communities and, therefore, would prove to be “an obstacle in the way of rural

progress.” Finally, Hickle questioned the new generation’s commitment to a rural

uplift campaign. He saw them as members of the 1920s’ untrained, surplus labor

force. Their intention was not to help in the regeneration of the countryside

but simply to gain access to a civil service profession, even if it required teaching

in a rural school. 74 Within the year, they would apply for a transfer to an urban

school and return to the city. Miller was concerned about the 730 changes of

teachers in rural areas in 1917. 75 That year, in response to the popular critiques,

illiteracy rates, and its own assessment of new teachers, the colonial department

collaborated with the University of Puerto Rico and the College of Agricultural

and Mechanic Arts (CAAM) in a new initiative focused on the intensive training

of a new generation of rural teachers. 76

The AMPR had historically staunchly defended all teachers before any critiques,

especially when they came from the colonial Department of Education.

This time, however, the AMPR leadership’s response highlighted the emerging

generational division within the teaching class as well as the willingness to critique

women’s labor. AMPR president Francisco Vincenty, in a December 1918

speech at the teachers’ annual convention, identified the multiple factors challenging

the success of rural schools: the bad roads that limited teachers’ access

to schools and students; the poverty, ignorance, and illiteracy of parents; and the

shortage of housing for rural teachers. These and many other reasons were slowing

down progress. But additionally, he conceded that the new rural teachers were

failing to meet expectations. The majority of the new rural teachers were young

women. 77 Only fourteen of the seventy-three rural teachers who graduated from

the new 1917 rural teacher training institutes were male. 78

Isaac del Rosario, a senior educator, identified the new, young, female teachers

as the root of the problem. Del Rosario, like many others, argued that commitment

to rural schools was the greatest labor to be undertaken for the progress

of the patria. Rural teachers chose to take on the noble mission of “reconstructing

the social body of our country.” 79 Proudly, del Rosario had been one of the first

rural schoolteachers of the early 1900s. And he, more than others, could attest to

the personal sacrifice rural teachers undertook. Rural work required overcoming

physical and material challenges: bad roads, one-room wooden schoolhouses

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 115

with few resources, the uninterest of rural parents. But through his hard work and

commitment, despite the challenges it posed for the happiness of his own nuclear

family, del Rosario argued, he persevered for the good of the patria. Over the

years he came to realize, however, that rural families were less willing to host new

rural teachers, which meant that rural teachers were forced to commute from

urban centers, making the process that much more difficult. Del Rosario suggested

that the rural parents’ resistance was due to the behavior of the new, young,

inexperienced, female teachers. They were muy señoritas in their expectations of

the host family, making demands for better accommodations, meals, and service.

Rather than offering a broader critique of the economic hardship of rural land -

owners in the 1920s, del Rosario argued that the parents’ resistance was generated

from the behavior of the señoritas. 80 They were not prepared to succeed in

the modern rural school because of the privilege of being raised in cities, because

of their sex, and because of their middle-class background. The rural school project

demanded more commitment and dedication to the students, countryside,

and patria than these young women could offer. They proved a challenge and

potential impediment to the success of the rural school project.

Women suffragists in the 1920s, as they worked to secure the vote for women

when it was denied them by the island legislature, faced severe criticism for stepping

outside of the ideal role of women in the modern Puerto Rican patriarchy—

the role of wife/mother/educator. They were derided for forcing the issue of

women’s suffrage, especially for strategically reaching beyond the island legislature

and seeking direct support for their cause from US politicians. In addition,

some questioned why women, expected to be gentle and delicate, were asking

to be allowed access to the “dirty” public sphere of politics. Their participation in

this public space might prove corruptive to their femininity. This was also precisely

the type of critique women as teachers received within the broader debate

over rural schools and citizenship building. Significantly, however, female teachers

received these critiques from fellow teachers, particularly older male educators

who struggled to imagine what type of contribution young female teachers

could really offer to the reconstruction of rural men.

The winning essay of the 1917 AMPR literary contest proposed ways to fix

“the rural school problem.” The author, working within a modern education ideology

that imagined the interconnectedness of body and mind, also offered a

critique of women as teachers. Like del Rosario and others had argued before

him, M. Benítez Flores highlighted that running a rural school was a physically

and mentally demanding job that required teachers to manage a school with little

resources and to create relationships with uninterested rural parents. But, unlike

the others, Benítez Flores was particularly concerned with how the labor and

116 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

practice of teaching forced a type of “degeneration” of a woman’s body, personality,

and mind. He proposed that the demands of teaching took a physical toll on

women’s bodies that led to negative changes in personality. He approximated that

after six years of teaching, women began to lose their compassion and beauty.

Some even became mean-spirited or lost all their energy, which led to further

psychological deterioration. 81 This author assumed that women’s role in Puerto

Rican society was to represent the beauty and qualities of their sex, to complement

their husbands, to nurture their children. Women’s labor outside the home

produced a less-feminine, less-sane version of this ideal woman. These were some

of the challenges that woman as teacher posed to the AMPR citizenship-building

project. Female teachers in rural schools were feared to more likely emasculate

men and set bad examples for young girls than to promote the goal of creating

modern citizens.

While male educators considered the possibility that young women put in

the position to lead rural men would be potentially dangerous for citizenship

building and emasculating for boys and men, the woman’s role that was celebrated

was the one that was imagined within the limits of social feminism. The

social feminist view, which María de Fátima Barceló Miller defined as the ideology

that imagined a liberal and modern Puerto Rico that required improvement

and advancement in women’s position in society, was the one rewarded by the

AMPR leadership. Several leaders of the women’s suffragist movement, including

Ana Roque de Duprey, Mercedes Solá, Ana López de Vélez, Isabel Andreu,

Beatriz Lasalle, Carmen Gómez, and Carlota Matienzo, were teachers. 82 The social

feminist ideology dominated ideas about women’s work and contributions to the

classroom with the intention of regenerating the rural mother and wife.

In addition, one particularly prolific teacher who promoted the social feminist

ideology within the AMPR was ponceña Lorenza Brunet del Valle. She was a

prolific promoter of the modern ideology concept in the late 1910s. She embraced

a gendered definition of citizen, advocating for the reconstruction of the modern

man through education: “The ideal of the modern school . . . is to take the weak

and imperfect boy . . . and transform him into a strong man, moral and vigorous

of body and spirit, guided by reason, sustained by a controlled and educated

will.” 83 Young girls should be taught to complement their male partners. A young

girl’s primary responsibility was to be a “conscious collaborator with a man in his

social mission.” 84

While the primary goal of the school was to help generate this modern man,

who must “contribute to the progress of his patria,” Brunet del Valle also identified

how women might make a difference in rural schools: “A great number of rural

teachers are women gifted in the labors appropriate to their sex, the domestic

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 117

sciences. How much good they might offer the poor and ignorant rural women!” 85

Brunet del Valle envisioned rural teachers contributing to the reconstruction of

wives and mothers by undertaking a series of projects outside of regular school

hours. On Saturday mornings the teacher could offer “simple and easy” lessons

in sewing techniques or nutrition. Weekday afternoons she could host reading

circles, during which the teacher read to the mothers, choosing selections that

were “within reach of their intelligence.” Finally, the teacher could organize community

gatherings and simple parties with the intention of “raising the spirit of

the simple and ignorant” country folk. 86 These were unique contributions that

female teachers could offer the rural school project. Brunet del Valle imagined

that they were skills and practices that most female teachers had already mastered

because of their sex. She was not advocating for a home economics curriculum

but rather for Puerto Rican women to deploy the skills they “naturally” brought

with them to rural schools. In this way, women could go above and beyond the

call of duty to fulfill the goal of the modern school: “to create the perfect citizen—a

conscious patriot who will contribute to the progress of his and her patria,

to the improvement of social welfare, and to the sustenance and advancement of

that democracy [the United States] of which he is also a part.” 87

Brunet del Valle was particularly mindful that the teachers’ practice in rural

schools should be adapted to the limited capacities of rural families. Rural girls

and women might be illiterate, traditional, and poor examples of mothers and

housekeepers, but the modern female teacher could help change that. Rural men,

meanwhile, could be regenerated as well. The target was rebuilding the home,

helping rural girls become better wives and mothers, helping young boys become

better husbands and providers. It was this social feminist ideology, which fundamentally

reproduced gender-specific roles within the modern Puerto Rican patriarchy,

that the AMPR leadership rewarded and welcomed. It did not threaten

patriarchy; instead, as it advocated for improving women’s conditions and opportunities,

it served to reproduce patriarchy for the benefit of all. Through these

conversations, teachers were proposing the gender-specific definitions of colonial

citizenship in the late 1910s and 1920s. Social feminist ideology was modern

and liberal in how it imagined the potential regeneration and modernization of

the citizenry. It was politically reformist and gender conservative in its reproduction

of the colonial framework and modern patriarchy.


In August 1922 a parent from the municipality of Mayagüez wrote an anonymous

letter to the island governor. The letter suggested that the author had acquired a

118 Citizenship, Gender, and Schools

basic level of literacy, although most words were spelled phonetically, and there

was little punctuation. The parent was concerned about the person recently

appointed by the commissioner of education to the position of inspector of

schools in the parent’s municipality. Commissioner Juan B. Huyke, the parent

wrote, “did not realize what he had done when he appointed such an immoral man

to be inspector.” The parent was particularly concerned about the new appointment

because his daughters attended the Mayagüez schools.

The parent challenged the morality of the inspector based on his treatment of

women teachers and young girls. The inspector’s history spoke to the ways he

violated the honor of his wife, teachers, and other young working-class girls. The

parent reported that the inspector had taken a teacher as a lover, impregnated her,

and moved her to his home in Bayamón, which he shared with his wife. He ultimately

divorced his wife and married his lover. But, in addition, he had also “dishonored”

the daughter of a zapatero (cobbler) and had a child with his wife’s

young cousin, who resided in his home. When the inspector worked as an assistant

in Mayagüez, the parent reported, he would lock himself in a classroom with

a teacher in the school. How could this inspector, “such an immoral man,” have

the right to supervise anyone in the public schools? 88

The Mayagüez parent, as he wrote this letter of complaint to the governor, was

claiming for himself and his daughters the honor and respectability that middleclass

teachers had denied him. His letter of complaint, professing the immorality

of the school inspector, challenged the underlying assumption in the 1920s writings

by educators—that children should be rescued from parents who failed to

provide moral examples. In this example, it was the parent who claimed morality,

who defended the honor of the young girls and teachers, and who questioned

the character and capacity of the school administrator. The parent challenged the

decisions made by the commissioner of education for the benefit of children in

Mayagüez. Teachers and educators were imagining carrying out a modern and

progressive citizenship-building project where they could rebuild the foundations

of honorable men and women in cities and the countryside. The subjects

of reconstruction, however, maintained their own critiques about the qualities

and morality of those educators who assumed authority over those subjects’

homes and children. They demanded educators to be mindful and held accountable

for their participation in activities that undermined the morality and honor

of communities.

Gender constructions were at the core of the 1920s education debates. Teachers

and educators proposed ways to generate modern and progressive colonial

citizens through public schools. Boys and girls, men and women became targets

of ambitious middle-class teachers. At the same time, the teaching profession

Citizenship, Gender, and Schools 119

underwent a demographic and generational transformation. The older generation

of male teachers struggled to retain their authority over the citizenshipbuilding

project as they witnessed the feminization of the profession. The debate

over the acceptable practices of women as teachers, of the limits of women teachers’

contribution to the citizenship-building project, exposed the limits of the

older male teaching leadership’s vision for colonial reform through public schools.

The anonymous parent from Mayagüez, meanwhile, reminded teachers and poli -

ticians that parents too were holding teachers accountable when they crossed the

boundaries of respectability and honor.

The late 1910s and 1920s provided historical moments of crises and contradic -

tions. The highly contested definition of colonial citizenship emerged and created

a space where gender ideologies and practices required further clarification.

Generational differences highlighted the boundaries of the social constructions

of gender, patriarchy, and citizenship. Negotiating the new definition of colonial

citizenship within the new imperial framework required balancing definitions of

tradition and modernity. Teachers elected aspects of the Spanish and Puerto Rican

heritages and practices to retain if they were not considered too “backward” and

“traditional.” Teachers redefined modern practices as progressive Puerto Rican

initiatives rather than as US impositions. This process of negotiating the definition

of colonial citizenship, the intention of schools, and the reconstruction of

gender roles was carefully worked out within the limits of the colonial framework

established by the Jones Act. Through these debates and practices, teachers as

intermediate actors contributed to the process of reproducing and consolidating

“imperial formations.”

chapter 4

Testing for Citizenship

in the Diaspora

The Puerto Rican diaspora of the early twentieth century was a product of US

imperial practices in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The new colonial relationship

between Puerto Rico and the United States facilitated the immigration of

Puerto Rican labor to the metropole, to Hawaii, Florida, and throughout the

Northeast. 1 Although the “great migration” of Puerto Ricans to the United States

was a historical phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960s, the early twentieth-century

migration and the Northeast diaspora were also important for 1930s constructions

of “national” identities in Puerto Rico and the United States. There were approximately

53,000 Puerto Ricans in the United States in 1930, a tenfold increase from

the 1,500 just twenty years earlier. As the diaspora grew, it became a prism through

which historical actors, in both the United States and Puerto Rico, would more

clearly define “national” characteristics and qualifications for citizenship.

In late 1935 the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York (CCSNY)

published the results of a study conducted on Puerto Rican children in the city

of New York. 2 The Chamber of Commerce’s Special Committee on Immigration

and Naturalization initiated the study and contracted a small team of social

scientists who conducted the tests and analyzed the results. The study and the

special committee’s assessments were essentially negative and derogatory. The

psychologists (C. P. Armstrong, E. M. Achilles, and M. J. Sacks) concluded that

Puerto Rican children in the city’s public schools were, in comparison to other

student groups, intellectually inferior. They suggested that Puerto Rican children

be tracked into vocational programs for fear that the students’ potential disaffection

with academic instruction might push them toward their “natural proclivities”—delinquency

and criminality. The leading researcher, Armstrong, feared


Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 121

that Puerto Rico was sending to the United States the most intellectually inferior

members of its population.

The chairman of the special committee, John B. Trevor, in turn, would recommend,

for fear of “grave consequences,” that Puerto Rican migration to the United

States be restricted as soon as possible. He addressed the hearings then taking

place in the US Congress, which were assessing whether Puerto Rico might be

placed on the path to statehood, recommending that the congressmen take that

political option off the table immediately. Trevor warned the congressman that,

inasmuch as a grant of statehood can never be rescinded, the investigation conducted

. . . certainly suggests that the proposition to incorporate Puerto Rico as

a State in the Federal Union should be held in abeyance.” 3 He implied that the

political policies of US empire could have unforeseen consequences for the quality

of immigrants to be incorporated into the US national body.

The 1935 study highlighted how local actors in the United States contributed

to the construction of national boundaries, calling for a reconsideration of US

imperial expansion and narrowing the definition of citizen. While the 1920s witnessed

the height of immigration restriction debates, immigration restrictionists

and racial eugenicists came together through the CCSNY committee on immigration

and naturalization to continue to pursue their agenda in the 1930s. The

Puerto Rican diaspora had grown throughout the early twentieth century. In the

face of the 1930s economic crisis, however, many migrants returned to the island.

Despite the rate of return migration, the 1930s economic crisis heightened the

immigration restrictionists’ anxieties over the “Puerto Rican problem” in the city,

a problem emblematic of broader anti-immigration movements targeted against

non-Anglo-Saxon communities in the United States. 4 Although Puerto Ricans

became US citizens in 1917, Trevor and Armstrong targeted the Puerto Rican

diaspora through the language of immigration restriction. The goal of the study,

therefore, was not only to advocate for the restriction of immigrants into the

United States but specifically to justify denying a group of US citizens access to

the US mainland because of their “racial difference” and “national origins.” 5

The targeting of the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York City in 1935 demonstrates

how local actors in both the United States and Puerto Rico expected

to inform US congressional debates over imperial legislation. The mid-1930s

were particularly significant legislative years for US colonies, as they marked the

approval of the 1935 Tydings-McDuffie Act and the drafting of the 1936 Tydings

Bill. The 1935 act, also known as the Philippines Independence Bill, set the archipelago

on a ten-year path toward independence. In the Puerto Rican example,

1936 stands out as the year that marked the height of radical nationalist activity

and labor struggles. A casualty of this political unrest was an American, the chief

122 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

of police of Puerto Rico, Col. Francis Riggs. In retaliation for his death, Riggs’s

powerful friend, the Maryland senator Millard Tydings, chairman of the Territories

and Insular Affairs Committee in the US Congress, proposed the Tydings

Bill, which supported an island plebiscite on independence. Scholars have characterized

the 1936 bill as punitive legislation meant to punish Puerto Rico for

the murder of the US colonel. If 1935 and 1936 were years when the US Congress

supported legislation that proposed the independence of the Philippines

and Puerto Rico, why was the chairman of the special committee in New York

anxiously addressing US congressmen whom he feared were seriously considering

statehood for Puerto Rico? Placing the CCSNY research within a broader

comparative analysis of the persecution of non-Anglo-Saxon communities in the

United States in the 1930s helps address this apparent contradiction.

The study of Puerto Rican children in New York City brought together different

actors (immigration restrictionists and racial eugenicists) and ideologies

(racial difference, national origin, colonial peoples, imperial spaces, and national

identities) at a decisive economic and political moment in the United States and

Puerto Rico. In the United States, for immigration restrictionists and racial eugen -

icists like Trevor and Armstrong, the Puerto Rican diaspora represented the

material dangers of the expansion of US empire in the Caribbean. Puerto Rican

migration into New York challenged the nationalist agenda these US actors had

carried forward from the 1920s. An analysis of the 1935 study, therefore, highlights

the relationship between race, migration, and empire in the early twentieth

century, as the coalition of US immigration restrictionists and racial eugenicists

felt threatened by and targeted the migration of Caribbean colonial peoples.

In Puerto Rico the 1930s also marked a vital moment in conversations over the

construction of national and cultural identities. Therefore, the Armstrong study

received a strong response from a representative of the Puerto Rican elite and

professional classes, the assistant commissioner of education, Pedro Cebol lero.

As proposed in chapters 2 and 3, in the early twentieth century, teachers and educators

collaborated in the promotion of a citizenship-building project with the

intention to regenerate the Puerto Rican “race” through neo-Lamarckian eugenic

practices and behaviors. In the tradition of turn-of-the-century Latin American

elites and intellectuals, Puerto Rican intermediate actors (teachers and educators)

embraced and rearticulated the racial logic of regenerating the body by improving

the environment through public sanitation campaigns, personal hygiene

instruc tion, and reconstruction of healthy homes and families. These scientific

practices, according to neo-Lamarckian eugenics, could regenerate and improve

the individual and, by extension, the “national race.” This 1920s neo-Lamarckian

interpre tation of the values of education and sanitation was rearticulated through

the 1930 debates over the new definitions of Puerto Rican national identity.

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 123

The 1935 study of Puerto Rican children in New York City challenged and

undermined the island-based educators’ carefully crafted vision. The new 1930s

debates over Puerto Rican identity embraced Hispanic heritage and cultivated a

Latin identity that inverted US definitions of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Cebol -

lero’s response to the study, therefore, represented the broader struggle of Puerto

Rican elites, professionals, and educators who demanded recognition of their

claims to a scientific, modern, and progressive location within the island’s social

hierarchy. Cebollero provided a careful and methodical rejection of the 1935

study, in the process demonstrating how race and class differences were critical to

the construction of a Puerto Rican national identity. For as Cebollero dismissed

the study, he paradoxically reinscribed the imagined race and class differences

between the diaspora and the island as well as the value of race and class hierarchies

within Puerto Rico. Scholars have argued that early twentieth-century Puerto

Rican national identities were constructed vis-à-vis Americans as the “other.” 6 I

suggest that, in addition, Puerto Rican intellectuals constructed a national identity

in opposition to the diaspora as the “other.” The diaspora’s racial and class

composition would situate it outside of the island’s imagined national boundaries

as early as the 1930s. 7

The following analysis of the 1935 study, therefore, highlights these parallel

and interconnected conversations about race, national identity, and citizenship.

Both groups—US racial eugenicists and immigration restrictionists and Puerto

Rican educators and professionals—were engaged in the process of articulating

and defining their respective “national” identities. These national identities, however,

were deeply informed by the broader framework of US empire, embodied

in the Puerto Rican diaspora. The diaspora posed a grave challenge for US racial

eugenicists and immigration restrictionists who wanted to defend the imagined

boundaries of the US nation, which they feared were endangered with the immigration

of US colonial peoples. Meanwhile, the diaspora would undermine the

Puerto Rican elite’s new definition of a modern and progressive national identity,

for it symbolized both the colonial relationship between the island and mainland

and the class and racial characteristics that the Puerto Rican elite denied existed

within the island’s imagined national boundaries. Responses to the 1935 study

revealed how the diaspora of the 1930s became a prism through which racist and

elitist definitions of “national identity” and citizenship were constructed.

Race, Migration, and Empire: The Historical Context

The context under which the 1935 study emerged contributes to our understanding

of the politics of race and empire, the collaboration between immigration

restrictionists and racial eugenicists, and the history of the early twentieth-century

124 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

Caribbean diaspora. The 1930s were years when colonial peoples in the mainland

United States were negotiating their rights to access labor markets, years

when US citizens of non-Anglo-Saxon descent were targeted for deportation and

colonial peoples for decolonization. 8 These were also years when immigration

restrictionists who had collaborated with racial eugenicists struggled to maintain

an agenda they proposed in the 1920s and that became policy in the 1924 Immigration

Act. The growing community of Caribbean and other colonial peoples in

the United States challenged the foundation of the 1920s immigration reform—

the national origins and racial exclusion arguments. The practice of an expanding

US empire in the Caribbean and the proposed policies of colonial reformers

would undermine the goals and intentions of the immigration restrictionists and

eugenicists in the 1930s.

Situating the historical actors who initiated the 1935 study of Puerto Rican

children in the city of New York within the broader history of early twentiethcentury

immigration debates allows us to recover the politics of race, migration,

and empire. The leadership of the special committee and the members of the

Chamber of Commerce crafted a close collaboration with psychologists and re -

searchers. Their relationship represented the political alliance between immigration

restrictionists and racial eugenicists. Both groups wanted to maintain their

influence in the immigration restriction movement that reemerged in the 1930s

after the Great Depression.

John B. Trevor, the chairman of the special committee, was transparent about

the anxiety that guided the study: the expansion of US empire would be accompanied

by the unrestricted migration of colonial peoples from the islands to the

mainland. The incremental expansion of US empire, negotiated in the US Congress

and Supreme Court, was undermining the carefully constructed exclusionist

and restrictive immigration policies proposed by immigration restrictionists

and racial eugenicists, embodied in the 1924 Immigration Act. Trevor alerted

the Chamber of Commerce members: “An agitation now on foot to include

Puerto Rico as a State in the Federal Union suggested that an investigation of

the quality of immigration received from Puerto Rico would be a valuable contribution

to our knowledge.” 9 The study intended to document that failing to

regulate and limit the migration of Caribbean peoples into the US mainland

would prove a dangerous gamble. Trevor explained that the study’s conclusions

suggested that “a serious local condition not only exists at present in New York

City as a result of the admission of Puerto Ricans, but also the introduction of

this element portends the development of grave consequences, unless steps are

taken to check the inflow of surplus populations from our dependencies in the

Caribbean.” 10

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 125

Trevor’s interest in assessing the “quality” of Puerto Rican migration to New

York City represented the confluence of a series of events and relationships. A

year before the US Congress supported the punitive, pro-independence Tydings

Bill, the Committee on the Territories of the House of Representatives held hearings

on a bill “to enable the people of Puerto Rico to form a constitution and state

government and be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the States.” 11

In 1934 Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Santiago Iglesias, introduced H.R.

1394. Although the House Committee on the Territories held hearings on the

status bill in May and June 1935, it did not make it out of committee. 12

To document his opposition to both the statehood bill and Puerto Rican

migration to New York, Trevor thought to produce a study of the “quality” of

Puerto Rican migration in the tradition of the racial eugenics studies previously

supported by the CCSNY special committee. The special committee had recently

published a “comprehensive study” on immigration control by the well-known

eugenicist Harry H. Laughlin. 13 The 1934 Laughlin study included an appendix

by Dr. Clairette P. Armstrong, a psychologist of the Children’s Court of the City

of New York, which reported the results of psychological examinations on children

of immigrants. Armstrong became the lead researcher of the Puerto Rican

children’s study. 14

The immigration restrictionists and racial eugenicists who composed the

special committee had also been central actors in the crafting and framing of

the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. The nation’s first comprehensive

immigration restriction law, the act created numerical limits, known as “racial

quotas,” for immigration into the United States according to “national origin.” In

her analysis of the regimes of immigration restriction that emerged in the 1920s,

historian Mae M. Ngai argued that the 1924 Act consolidated two important

features of immigration restriction: “first, the invention and codification of new

racial concepts—‘national origins’ and ‘racial ineligibility to citizenship’—and

second, the articulation of a new nation-state territoriality based on border control

and deportation policy. . . . [C]onsidered together, these features of restriction

put European and non-European immigrant groups on different trajectories

of racial formation, with different prospects for full membership in the nation.” 15

The act established the criteria that defined races and national origins, criteria

used to evaluate the restriction of immigration from those groups considered

racially ineligible for citizenship. Historian Roger Daniels reminds students of

US history that subdivision “d” of section 11 of the 1924 act excluded “any immigrants

from the New World and their descendants; any Asians or their descendants;

the descendants of ‘slave immigrants’; and the descendants of ‘American

aborigines.’” 16

126 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

Trevor, in particular, had a distinguished history as a leading immigration

restrictionists who had contributed to the definitions of national origins and

racial quotas incorporated in the 1924 act. 17 In the 1920s Trevor was the head of

“an immigration-restriction coalition of patriotic orders and societies.” In March

1924 Trevor “submitted a proposal for quotas based on ‘national origins’ to the

Senate Immigration Committee,” and in May the US “Congress passed the new

immigration act based on Trevor’s concept of national origins quotas.” 18 In addition,

in the 1920s Laughlin, the lead researcher of the 1934 CCSNY immigration

control study, was a leading eugenicist who worked with the US Congress House

Committee on Immigration, supplying “data on ‘degeneracy’ and social ‘inadequacy’

(crime, insanity, feeblemindedness) showing the alleged racial inferiority

and unassimilability of southern and eastern Europeans.” 19 Historians consider

Laughlin “the eugenist with the greatest influence on immigration policy during

the 1920s.” 20 He was the research director at the Eugenics Institute at Cold Springs

Harbor, New York, founded by Charles Davenport. Davenport was a leading US

eugenicist who promoted the ideology of biological determinism and positive

race breeding and opposed social and environmental reform. 21

In the 1930s the CCSNY provided the platform and funding for immigration

restrictionists and racial eugenicists. The organization brought together politically

connected immigration restrictionists and eugenicists like Trevor, Laughlin,

and Armstrong. The CCSNY served a similar purpose to other immigration

exclusion groups on the US West Coast, like the California Joint Immigration

Committee, which advocated for the exclusion of the Japanese from US national

territory. 22 The actors who conducted the 1935 study of Puerto Rican children

and the ideologies that informed their research questions were building on their

historical participation in the early twentieth-century policy debates that justified

immigration restriction on the grounds of racial exclusion and incapacity

for citizenship.

In addition, Trevor’s concerns about Puerto Ricans’ alleged intellectual incapacity

and fundamental racial ineligibility for citizenship and statehood were framed

within a particular anxiety over a broader Caribbean migration to New York due

to the expanding US empire in the region. Trevor specifically warned against the

consequences from “the inflow of surplus populations from our dependencies

in the Caribbean.” 23 While Trevor’s and Armstrong’s prior support for restrictionist

legislation and scientific studies was targeted at eastern European immigrants,

the 1930s concern was specific to Caribbean migration. The history of

Caribbean migration and the growth and diversity of the Caribbean diaspora in

the US Northeast in the early twentieth century provide context for understanding

Trevor’s and Armstrong’s concern with Puerto Ricans specifically as well as

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 127

Caribbeans more broadly. It seems there were many reasons for Trevor, Armstrong,

and their Special Committee on Immigration and Naturalization to worry

that their goal of restricting non-Anglo-Saxon immigration would be challenged

by the growth of the Caribbean diaspora. While Puerto Rican migrants in the 1935

study were characterized as a voiceless and weak group dependent on the state

for assistance, welfare, and direction, in fact, the Caribbean community of New

York City was known for its political radicalism both at home and in the diaspora.

Historian Winston James carefully documented the new scale of migration

from the Caribbean to the United States between 1899 and 1937. Originating

from the Caribbean islands and Central America, almost 150,000 black Carib -

beans traveled to the United States in the early twentieth century. The majority

migrated to New York State, but particularly New York City, where by 1930

almost a quarter of black Harlem was of Caribbean origin. 24 As part of this

broader Caribbean migration, the number of Puerto Ricans in the United States

had grown from 1,513 in 1910 to 53,000 by 1930. Armstrong, citing the 1925

Columbia University study of Puerto Rico’s public schools, warned that “the

Puerto Rican colony in New York City already rates as the second largest Puerto

Rican city in the world.” 25

Since the 1890s, Caribbean migrants in New York City had represented a broad

spectrum of radical thought and practice, ranging from revolutionary socialism

to black nationalism. Harlem, New York City, and the Northeast bore witness to

the radical leadership of Hubert Harrison, Richard B. Moore, and Marcus Garvey.

In addition, Cuban and Puerto Rican anticolonial revolutionaries exiled from the

islands established fund-raising and intellectual bases from New York City and

Tampa to contribute to the goal of liberating the islands from US imperial rule. 26

Meanwhile, in the Puerto Rico of the 1930s, anticolonial nationalism was

accompanied by the militant demands of the working class. Since 1898 a growing

portion of the island laborers had been employed in the sugarcane fields of

the modern centrales, owned by US corporations and Puerto Rican businessmen,

a core component of America’s “sugar kingdom.” 27 The 1930s crisis highlighted

Puerto Rico’s dependence on US markets for sugar and tobacco. Like the econo -

mies of other countries that were primarily agricultural producers and exporters,

Puerto Rico’s economy suffered. Workers organized and went on strike, challenging

their employers and the colonial state to provide jobs and wages as unemployment

surged and wages quickly declined. At the same time, intellectuals and

middle-class sectors mobilized under the leadership of the anticolonial nationalist

Pedro Albizu Campos. The militant supporters of the Nationalist Party, combined

with the organized strikes and demands of the working class, characterized

1930s radical politics within Puerto Rico. 28

128 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

Trevor and Armstrong wanted to restrict the immigration of these radical Carib -

beans, some of whom were US citizens (Puerto Ricans and US Virgin Islanders)

and others of whom sought the protection of their own imperial embassies in the

United States. While the political radicalism of the Caribbean and the diaspora

was evident, the researchers chose to employ the language of racial eugenics

to construct the imagined inferiority of the colonial migrant group. Immigration

restrictionists and racial eugenicists like Trevor and Armstrong, represented

through institutions like the CCSNY, sought the support of their congressmen

in Washington, DC, to limit as quickly as possible the migration of these radical,

black, foreign, and/or colonial migrants. The contradictions of race and empire

had come home.

Within the Caribbean colonial context, Trevor and Armstrong were also reacting

to the colonial reform policies of the early 1930s. In Puerto Rico, colonial

reformers and social scientists early began to establish the relationship between

overpopulation, economic development, and immigration. When Armstrong

stated the “reasons for research,” the first justification established validity by referencing

the alleged social and economic burden of the Puerto Rican community:

“According to teachers, social workers, relief investigators, probation officers and

others, the difficult adjustment of Puerto Ricans in New York City has become a

serious problem.” 29 While Armstrong began by referencing the alleged anxiety of

local police, social workers, and teachers, the 1930s fears of Puerto Rican poverty

and presence on welfare rolls were also bolstered by the colonial reform studies

conducted on the island.

Referencing the 1930s Brookings Institution report selectively to present the

overpopulation theory as an explanation for the economic hardship on the island

instead of the economic structures that defined the colonial relationship between

island and mainland, Armstrong pondered the potential growth of the Puerto

Rican community in the United States: “Since the population of Puerto Rico is

said to increase with jungle fecundity, the States, particularly New York, are in

line to receive large increments of population from the Island.” 30 She turned to

the 1925 Columbia University study, which ultimately contradicted the Armstrong

study conclusions about the intelligence of Puerto Rican children, to warn that

New York City was already “the second largest Puerto Rican city in the world.” 31

The 1930 study by Samuel J. Crumbine, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation,

documented the island’s population density and confirmed, for Armstrong,

that “overpopulation is serious in Puerto Rico.” 32 The neo-Malthusian thesis about

overpopulation and economic poverty shaped these studies. Armstrong feared

that colonial reformers were seriously entertaining immigration of “surplus”

laborers to the United States as a practical remedy. “The high Puerto Rican birth

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 129

rate, which many consider the crux of their economic difficulties, and overcrowding,

offers a serious economic problem. Commissions investigating Puerto

Rico have suggested as one way to economic betterment and reduction of population,

emigration of skilled or unskilled labor to the States.” 33

The 1920s and 1930s studies provided a logic that racial eugenicists like Armstrong

could engage. She drew out the now familiar argument from these studies:

consensual unions, illegitimacy, and the young age distribution of the population

were at the root of the island’s 1930s economic crisis. Together, these forces

would generate the reasoning that supported increased migration to New York.

The Russell Sage Foundation study established, “as have others,” that “for ages,

illegitimacy has been one of the great social evils of the Island.” The census confirmed

the “illegality” or the foundation of disorganized family units: “The 1920

census shows that one-third of the marriages were illegal or so-called consensual,

making for loose home ties and the easy and frequent abandonment of children,

of whom there are so many thousands on the Island.” 34 These illegal and disorganized

families generated a young population, a “surplus” of children. “According

to the United States standard of estimated age distribution in 1926, Puerto

Rico had 174,654 children too many.” Armstrong feared that the “jungle fecundity”

of tropical Puerto Ricans was uncontrollable, as she was perplexed at how

“the near-starvation food resources seem not to check reproduction.” And this

was why, Armstrong feared, migration to New York City was an attractive solution

for colonial reformers: “These figures illustrate how Puerto Rico could well

be an inexhaustible source of population supply for a complacent mainland.” 35

Armstrong’s argument, pulled together from colonial reform studies, represented

what Laura Briggs has defined as a “North American version” of “exclusive

nationalism”: “A contrasting ideal of nationalism [to independentista nationalism]

was the North American version that sought protection for the (white, U.S.) nation

from too many of ‘them’—working-class and/or dark-skinned people. It was an

exclusive nationalism derived from ‘hard’ eugenics, which feared the reproduction

of the lower classes, Puerto Ricans in general, and, indeed, all non-‘Nordics.’” 36

The overpopulation thesis that emerged in the 1920s and was well established by

the 1930s blamed the island’s economic conditions on the reproduction rates

of working-class families. The island’s export-agriculture economy, the modernization

of the sugar industry, the colonial trade patterns with US and European

markets—these economic and colonial relationships were not considered. While

in Puerto Rico independentista (pro-independence) nationalists, overpopulation

the orists, local and imperial feminists, and liberal professionals engaged in debates

over the national project through women’s bodies, the 1935 Armstrong study

documented that, early in the twentieth century, the Puerto Rican diaspora of

130 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

New York City, not just the island population, was attacked and targeted by

immigration restrictionists and eugenicists. A generation before the culture of

poverty theorists analyzed “the Puerto Rican problem” in the city, immigration

restrictionists and racial eugenicists had already identified the diaspora as a model

case study.

The 1935 study of Puerto Rican children in New York City reminds US and

Puerto Rican historians that the diaspora was at the center of historical debates

over immigration control, scientific racism, and national identities within the

broader territorial space of US empire. The study and the conversation it generated

speak to how the diaspora in the Northeast has historically contributed

to the construction and consolidation of national identities that were dependent

on the articulation of racial difference. These national identities, however, were

being simultaneously constructed by both US immigration restrictionists and

racial eugenicists as well as Puerto Rican cultural nationalists of the 1930s. The

contradictions of empire—Puerto Rico defined as a colonial territory of the

United States that was “domestic in a foreign sense,” Puerto Ricans as colonial

subjects granted a limited version of US citizenship, the Puerto Rican diaspora

depicted as a criminal and degenerate community of foreigners polluting a local

“national” space (New York) by immigration restrictionists and racial eugenicists—informed

identities emerging in both the island and the mainland.

“You Cannot Make a Silk Purse

Out of a Sow’s Ear”: The Armstrong Study

Two overlapping intentions guided the 1935 Armstrong study. First, through

the modern methods of eugenic scientific testing, the researchers carefully “racialized”

the Puerto Rican diaspora. Second, within the logic of immigration restrictionists,

they constructed Puerto Rican children in the United States as foreigners

who were potentially “polluting” and threatening the eugenically healthy

community of US citizens. The study created a picture of Puerto Rican children’s

alleged inferior intelligence, understood to be a product of their “confused” racial

heritage and the island’s legacy of consensual unions. Armstrong constructed this

description of the Puerto Rican diaspora through a comparison to other US non-

Anglo-Saxon groups (Native Americans and African Americans) as well as in

conversation with comparative eugenics research on colonial peoples in the US

empire (Hawaii). The imagined threatening eugenic heritage of the Puerto Rican

diaspora was then extended to all residents of the island of Puerto Rico.

The brief study was fundamentally a practice in applying the modern methods

of analysis of racial eugenicists and psychologists in the 1930s. Armstrong and

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 131

her team of researchers gave the students the “short scale of the Army Individual

Performance tests” and the verbal “Otis Test of general ability.” This combination

of tests was intended to measure the students’ reactions to both concrete

situations and a “verbal education.” The researchers chose a public school where

they believed the student enrollment included a “large and representative sampling

of Puerto Ricans”: Public School 57 at 115th Street near Lexington Avenue

in New York City in East Harlem; “indeed many of our subjects had siblings

in nearby public schools.” 37 In the early twentieth century, along with growth in

other boroughs and neighborhoods in the city, the Puerto Rican community

began to concentrate in the East Harlem neighborhood, also known as Spanish

Harlem or el barrio. 38

Armstrong’s study constructed and engaged its subjects—Puerto Rican students—as

a group of “foreign immigrants.” The test results could then be used

to reflect more broadly on the racial eugenicists’ and immigration restrictionists’

argu ments about the inferiority of foreigners in comparison to “native” (read

“Anglo-Saxon”) Americans. The test results of the Puerto Rican students would

then be compared by age levels to control groups composed of “native” schoolchildren.

The researchers examined 240 Puerto Rican children ranging in age

from nine to sixteen in the fourth through sixth grades as well those in the non-

English-speaking class. The control groups were from children examined in 1928

from PS 6 on the Upper East Side and PS 166 on the Upper West Side in New

York City and rural schoolchildren in northern Westchester County, New York.

What did the student scores and the comparison with the control groups suggest?

For Armstrong, the test results were clear. The Army Individual Performance

tests provided “statistical evidence that this random sampling of Puerto Rican

children in New York were very inferior to unselected public schoolchildren here

in ability to react to concrete situations. . . . Only 16 percent of the Puerto Ricans

reached the average of the control group, 19 percent were above and 65 percent

below the average.” 39 The Otis Test of general ability generated IQ scores from

which the researchers concluded: “Their inferiority to the control group is marked

and they are far below the average child in the States in native ability. . . . Only 6 percent

of the Puerto Ricans reached the average of the control group. 14 percent were

above and 80 percent below.” Armstrong concluded: “Psychological examinations

administered to a random sampling of Puerto Rican school children in New York

City . . . demonstrate a marked and serious inferiority in native ability to public

school children here. But few bright or even average Puerto Ricans were found.” 40

Armstrong concluded from these test results that Puerto Rican children in

PS 57 were intellectually inferior to native schoolchildren. From this conclusion

she would extrapolate and make recommendations about the Puerto Rican

132 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

community in the United States more broadly, suggesting concerns about the

“family mentality” of those on the island as well. How would the researchers ex -

plain the discrepancy between the Puerto Rican children’s and the control groups’

test scores? They looked for explanations in the supplemental family information

they had gathered. The researchers wanted to understand the unique characteristics

of the Puerto Rican community and collected information on family

organization, class, and race, descriptions that spoke to other comparative “race

psychology” studies within the tradition of racial eugenicists in the 1920s.

Armstrong’s description of the community began with the most pertinent information

to the broader argument of the study: immigration restriction. Researchers

wanted to establish that the study subjects represented both US-born children of

Puerto Rican parents and “foreign-born” (in Puerto Rico) children who migrated

to the United States. One-third of the students reported being born in New York

City, over a third had lived in the United States for six years or longer, and the

remainder had lived in the United States for five years or less. 41 By establishing

this distinction within the group, researchers then argued that the test results

spoke to characteristics they believed were inherent in the Puerto Rican “national

group,” regardless of whether they had been born in the United States to Puerto

Rican parents or were “foreign-born” in Puerto Rico but raised in the United

States. Did granting students access to public instruction affect the performance

of the group, despite the students’ location of birth or their years of residence in

the United States? Armstrong doubted that it would.

Second to foreign-born and length of stay in the United States was concern

over the “illegal” and “disorganized” families of Puerto Ricans, which, according

to the colonial reform studies that Armstrong cited, were allegedly at the root of

the overpopulation and poverty of the island. However, the study results contradicted

the assumption of disorganized families. The dominant family unit of

the children under study was the nuclear family: “Slightly over two-thirds of

the Puerto Rican children were living with both parents, the remainder lived with

mothers alone, a very few with fathers and a few with other relatives.” Occupation

information was not collected, and the only sentence referencing employment

remains unclear: “Over half said they were on relief, home or work.” 42 Were over

half the parents on relief? Or were half of the children able to report whether

their parents were on relief, at home, or at work? The intention of the study, however,

as Trevor’s introduction suggested, was not to establish the occupational

history of the family but rather to point out that the subjects of study were foreigners

“on relief ” and an economic burden on the state.

For eugenicists, clearly defining the “racial” heritage of the subject was important,

for it was believed to be linked to a series of academic and social behaviors

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 133

(feeblemindedness, criminality, delinquency). For “hard” eugenicists like Armstrong,

racial mixture was problematic, for it potentially combined the worst

qualities and behaviors of each “race.” 43 However, the Puerto Rican students in

New York and the racial heritage of those on the island did not easily fit into the

racial definitions and hierarchies that guided the other studies published by the

Special Committee on Immigration and Naturalization or the guidelines set

forth by the Davenport eugenics school.

Armstrong defined Puerto Ricans as a racial hybrid and described the “color”

of the students instead: “As to color: 58 were recognizable Negro, 91 white and

91 uncertain, with indications of Negro antecedents.” 44 Relying on her observation

of the students in combination with a reading of the post-1898 histories of

the island published in the United States, Armstrong concluded that the Puerto

Rican “race” was really the result of generations of racial mixture. 45 Indigenous

native heritage was minimal, while “Negro” heritage was dominant: “The trace of

Indian tribes many generations removed is almost lost but in marked contrast the

Negro has been an important factor in the development of the island whose population

in 1899 nearly a million, was 62 percent white and 38 percent colored.”

For support and explanation, she referred to L. S. Rowe’s 1904 study, The United

States and Puerto Rico. Quoting Rowe: “‘In no other part of the world has there

been such a mixture of blood’ as in Puerto Rico and the ‘entire gamut has been

run from the aboriginal Caribs to the culture of Western civilization.’” The

“racial” legacy of Puerto Rico, Armstrong explained, was due to the class organization

of the island, where “the land-owning class is largely Spanish, the peasants

in the coastal plain of Negro extraction with many admixtures and the jibaros, the

mountain peasants, of Spanish descent with admixtures of Indian and Negro.” 46

Armstrong’s description of Puerto Rican “racial” heritage was slippery and contradictory.

She simultaneously incorporated the categories of “color,” “race,”

“national origin,” and “civilization” to compose a description of her subjects of

study that could fit the categories of analysis in “race psychology.”

Armstrong’s study, guided by the science of racial eugenics and framed by the

goal of immigration restriction, looked for an explanation of the Puerto Rican

students’ performance in their racial heritage, their allegedly broken families, and

their “retardation” by school age. Her summary of the study recommendations

betrayed the political agenda that framed the pseudoscientific method of psychological

tests in 1935. Fundamentally, Armstrong suggested that the study results

confirmed the intellectual inferiority not just of the Puerto Rican children but

of immigrants in general. And she supported a recommendation and practice

that was familiar in debates over public education for African American and Native

American children. Although the study was framed as a question of foreign

134 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

immigration, the solution for the Puerto Rican example was found in the practice

of separate curriculums for non-Anglo-Saxon groups. African American industrial

training schools and the curriculum of Native American boarding schools

reflected liberal educators’ belief in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

that the groups required manual, rather than academic, instruction. This

type of education would help develop the strengths of each community and

allow students to seek “proper” forms of employment, such as domestic service

for Native American and African American women. 47 Armstrong concluded:

The evidence indicates that the majority of Puerto Rican children here are

so low in intelligence that they require education of a simplified, manual sort,

preferably industrial, for they cannot adjust in a school system emphasizing the

three R’s.” 48 The Puerto Rican case study served to reinforce the relationship

between race, class, and education in US debates.

Armstrong was also particularly concerned about the scale of age-grade retardation

of Puerto Rican children. She was guided by the assumption that this

retardation fostered and cultivated the children’s alleged “criminal tendencies.”

Her use of the descriptor “retarded” meant that for many students, their age did

not correspond to their grade level. She began the conclusion: “Puerto Ricans are

adding greatly to the already tremendous problem of intellectually subnormal

school retardates of alien parentage, whence are recruited most delinquents and

criminals.” Placing older students in an earlier class grade highlighted, for Armstrong,

the futility of offering academic instruction to such children. “Attempts to

force such pupils into school grades for which they are not fitted . . . are all equally

cruel to children, sufficiently poignant to give them a reckless disregard, even

contempt for laws they flout, via truancy and other delinquency.” The children’s

failure in the classroom, their “reckless disregard” for appropriate behavior in

schools, combined with their low test scores, Armstrong argued, supported

Trevor’s position for immigration restriction: “Indeed the majority of the Puerto

Rican children examined betray a family mentality which should not be permitted

admission here, further to deteriorate standards already so seriously impaired

by mass immigration of the lowest levels of populations of many nations.” Immigration

restriction, especially of those communities (Puerto Ricans and eastern

Europeans) that betrayed behaviors such as “truancy and other delinquency,”

would better serve the interests of all students: “Most Puerto Rican children here

cannot be assimilated in the existing type of civilization and they are helping to

turn the tide back to a lower stage of progress.” 49

Armstrong supported her study conclusions and recommendations by referencing

a second “race psychology” study of a comparative US colonial example.

Dr. S. D. Porteus and Dr. Marjorie E. Babcock conducted a comparative study in

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 135

“race psychology” of the different “races” that composed Hawaii’s population.

The 1928 study, Temperament and Race, was carried out through the Psychological

and Psychopathic Clinic of the University of Hawaii and analyzed the history

of Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Filipinos in Hawaii. 50 Porteus

and Babcock compared each “race’s” performance on their scale of “social analysis,”

“brain development,” “mentality,” and “psychosynergic traits,” from which

the authors then compiled a conclusion about each group’s “racial implications.”

While the authors dedicated a separate chapter for each group in their “Historical

Survey of Races in Hawaii,” they did not develop a chapter specific to the “Porto

Ricans.” Instead, Puerto Ricans were discussed in comparison to other groups,

often Filipinos. 51

Porteus and Babcock grounded their comparative study on the primary value

of race: “When a man has stated his race he has stated one of the most significant

and important facts about himself, important in its bearing on his physical

make-up, his personality, and his spiritual and mental outlook.” 52 Armstrong used

Porteus and Babcock to support her conclusions that the intelligence of Puerto

Ricans was comparatively lower than other foreign “races” in the United States,

in addition to native groups: “Porteus and Babcock, when comparing the various

national groups in Hawaii, found all were inferior to California children in

native ability but that the Puerto Ricans were the most inferior not only in intelligence

but in nearly every social trait.” Intelligence and delinquency in foreign

immigrants in US colonial territories were interconnected: “They were lowest in

age-grade standards[,] and court records showed much delinquency, with more

Puerto Ricans in jail than any other national group, though they were nearly the

smallest group.” 53

Porteus and Babcock characterized the Puerto Ricans who migrated to Hawaii

in 1900 as members of the lowest “class” of Puerto Rico’s population. In Armstrong’s

words, “These authors conclude that Puerto Ricans in Hawaii, who had

come from the most undesirable strata, had made a hapless attempt to adjust to

a cultural level, to a standard of morals and to a set of national habits far higher

than theirs and so were the worst timber for citizenship of all the migrants.” 54 The

Porteus and Babcock study supported Armstrong’s contention that Puerto Ricans

were likely “racially ineligible” for citizenship. Porteus and Babcock questioned

whether the second generation of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii would show much im -

provement over the first: “It will be interesting to see whether the second generation

will continue to display the defects of character of the first. If so it will be a

strong proof of the old adage that ‘you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’

The evidence already points that way.” 55 Armstrong’s 1935 study, published as

the language, logic, and method of racial eugenics was declining within scientific

136 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

Racial types, 1926.

Porteus and Babcock

presented photographs

of each of the “racial

types” they studied in

Hawaii. The photograph

of the “Porto

Rican Group” shared a

page with the “Filipino

Group.” They wrote:

“Porto Ricans and

Filipinos vie with one

another for the invidious

distinction of being

last on the list in almost

all traits” (Porteus and

Babcock, Temperament

and Race, 324).

circles, sought support from race psychology studies published at the height of

scientific racism in the United States a decade earlier. The Porteus and Babcock

study was presented to support Armstrong’s test results but also, more significantly,

to reinforce its political arguments regarding race, citizenship, and empire:

Puerto Rican migration should be restricted; Puerto Ricans will make bad citizens;

Puerto Rico’s colonial government was taking advantage of US immigration


Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 137

The contradictory goal that guided the Armstrong study—immigration restric -

tion of Puerto Ricans, that is, restricting the mobility of US citizens from a colonial

territory to the US mainland—resurfaced in the conclusion. The state of New

York, Armstrong restated, could not be expected to carry the burden: “How many

more Puerto Ricans can New York support at public expense and how long and

with what unfortunate modifications of existing social institutions?” 56 In their

study Porteus and Babcock stated simply that it was “a matter of common report

that the Porto Rican government embraced the opportunity of sending many

of its undesirables as immigrants to Hawaii.” 57 Was the Puerto Rican government

replicating the earlier Hawaii migration strategy to New York in the 1930s? Armstrong

asked: “Is this New York group of Puerto Ricans representative of children

in Puerto Rico? Does Puerto Rico export to New York mostly her lowest strata

and worst mental levels?” 58

Whether or not Puerto Rican migrants in New York were representative of

those on the island, Armstrong concluded by strongly reminding her readers that

the solution proposed in the 1930s Puerto Rican colonial reform studies—immigration

of laborers—was misguided: “It can be concluded that migration to New

York offers no satisfactory, fundamental or permanent solution of the difficulties

of Puerto Rico or New York and only seriously complicates matters all around.” 59

She believed her study documented that there might be certain characteristics

intrinsic in the heritage of Puerto Ricans that could not be improved through

social services like public instruction: “It is evident that the serious problems of

Puerto Rico cannot be solved by emigration of semi- or unskilled labor to New

York, particularly in view of unemployment here, mandatory education and the

existing standards. Such emigration results in placing many in most anomalous

and unhappy situations, with dire results to unfortunate children and to education

aiming at progress.” 60

Armstrong’s study carefully crafted an argument—rich in contradictions—

that brought together the political goals of racial eugenicists and immigration

restrictionists in the years following the Great Depression. Applying the methods

and logic of racial eugenicists, measuring intellectual capacity through Army

Individual Performance and IQ tests, comparing the results to other “native” control

groups, Armstrong argued that Puerto Rican intelligence was comparatively

inferior. Intellectual inferiority laid the foundation for the argument that as a

“national” and “racial” group, Puerto Ricans were the “worst timber for citizenship.”

The comparative colonial example could only provide further support for

that conclusion. Researchers in both New York and Hawaii implied that the

Puerto Rican government was relieving itself of its “undesirables” and “lowest

strata” through migration. At the same time, they suggested that the Puerto Rican

138 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

migrants, in fact, demonstrated some of the “family mentality” inherent in Puerto

Ricans as a “national group” and/or “race.” Armstrong maintained the argument

that the subjects of study were “foreigners” to remind her readers and particularly

the US congressmen holding hearings in Washington, DC, that scientific evidence

supported the position that Puerto Rican migration should be restricted

and Puerto Rico’s colonial status not expanded in the path toward “incorporation

into the Union.” Racial eugenicists and immigration restrictionists worked

together to warn US congressmen against the “grave consequences” of expanding

US empire in the Caribbean. For the researchers, then, the alleged inferior intelligence,

blackness, tendencies toward criminality, and disorganized families were

enough evidence and justification for curtailing Puerto Rican migration to the

United States.

Additionally, in the brief Armstrong study, the early twentieth-century Puerto

Rican diaspora discursively underwent multiple levels of racialization. First, Puerto

Ricans were racialized as a hybrid group. The dominant characteristics and foundation

of the community, nevertheless, were found to be “Negro.” Second, the

blackness of the Puerto Rican community was consolidated in the researchers’

fear of black Caribbean migration. They chose to study Puerto Rican children

in Spanish Harlem. Puerto Ricans in the city shared housing, schools, and neighborhoods

with the heart of the “New Negro” community of Harlem. Their spatial

location defined the broader radical Caribbean community of New York. Third,

in addition to the construction of Puerto Ricans as foreign immigrants from the

Caribbean, they were feared to be a colonial problem. Test scores and family mentalities,

therefore, were compared to other “racial” groups in Hawaii. The Hawaii

study, as a source of comparison and support for Armstrong, represented the

link between the acquisition of overseas territories, the expansion of empire, and

the fear over how new colonial peoples were constructing a “new citizenship” and

“new nation”; as Babcock and Porteus lamented, “It is perhaps more proper to

speak not of the Americanization of the alien but of the alienization of America.” 61

The 1920s racial eugenics literature provided comparative analyses of “national”

groups within US imperial spaces, and Puerto Ricans were evaluated not only

in comparison to “native” control groups but also in comparison to Hawaii’s colonial

groups. Fourth, Puerto Rican students were also understood to be relatively

familiar to other “domestic” non-Anglo-Saxon groups. Armstrong could recommend

that Puerto Ricans follow the tradition of African American industrial train -

ing schools in the Southeast and Native American boarding schools throughout

the United States. Fifth, Armstrong, in the tradition of racial eugenicists and

immigration restrictionists, sought to erase Puerto Ricans’ US citizenship and

to minimize the island’s colonial relationship to the United States. This was an

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 139

additional form of racializing Puerto Ricans as a non-Anglo-Saxon group in the

tradition of the 1930s anti-immigration, deportation, and decolonization campaigns

that targeted Filipinos and Mexican Americans on the US West Coast. In

the end, within one study, as the researchers sought supporting evidence and

constructed arguments to establish their position (immigration restriction of

the comparatively inferior group of Puerto Ricans), they defined the Puerto

Rican diaspora (and all Puerto Ricans by extension) as a community of non-

Anglo-Saxon, racially hybrid, but predominantly black foreigners and colonial

subjects from the Caribbean. The example of the Puerto Rican diaspora, as constructed

in the 1935 study, provides a case study that highlights how the 1930s

relationship between race and empire emerged and was constructed through the

layering of multiple and contradictory discourses about race, science, migration,

citizenship, and nation.

“Porto-Rican Boy,”

1926 (Porteus and

Babcock, Temperament

and Race, 208).

Armstrong described

the “race” of Puerto

Ricans: “The trace of

Indian tribes many

generations removed

is almost lost but in

marked contrast the

Negro has been an

important factor in the

development of the

island” (Armstrong,

Achilles, and Sacks,

Report, 5).

140 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

“Unwarranted,” “Groundless,” and “Inadequate”:

Cebollero Responds

The 1935 Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York publication was outrageous

in its derogatory and racist characterization of Puerto Ricans and willfully

ignorant of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United

States, so much so that it was met with a “classic” response—editorials and letters

challenging and denouncing the study appeared in newspapers on the island and

in New York. Politicians, labor leaders, feminists, and other intellectuals in early

twentieth-century Puerto Rico cultivated a diverse and active newspaper culture

where they debated multiple events, policies, and ideologies. A derogatory study

of Puerto Ricans in New York would understandably generate a reaction from

the cosmopolitan intellectuals and politicians who were widely read and daily

debated the values, dangers, and implications of contemporary news. However, the

response to the 1935 study was different from the everyday newspaper debates

on the island, for in addition to the letters to the editors of newspapers, the

second-in-command of Puerto Rico’s Department of Education also drafted an

official” denouncement of the study. The response prepared by Pedro Cebollero,

the assistant commissioner of education, was published in the island’s monthly

education journal, La revista escolar de Puerto Rico/Porto Rico School Review, and

printed in pamphlet form by the Department of Education. 62

Why would the local 1935 New York study warrant such a response—an “official”

one from a leading education administrator in Puerto Rico? And this was a

response that was not a simple dismissal of the study but rather a methodical and

substantive discussion and refutation of its arguments as well. Cebollero rejected

the study’s “fallacy of reasoning” and “illogical inferences”: first, that migration

of Puerto Ricans into the US mainland could be restricted; second, that the quality

of a “race” or “national” group could be evaluated through an immigrant population

in the United States. He devalued the “ineffective,” “useless,” and “absurd”

intentions guiding the study by dismissing them “as pardonable because after

all the committee members are not scientists but just Chamber of Commerce

members.” However, he condemned the psychologists for “also fall[ing] under

the spell of the delusion suffered by the Chamber of Commerce members.” 63

Cebollero rejected the study’s assumption that the sample might be representative

of all Puerto Ricans on the island, challenging its characterization of Puerto

Ricans on the basis of race, class, and mental capacity: “To accept—as the re -

searchers have accepted—that a sampling which is 76 per cent colored, over 50

per cent on re lief, and 47 percent retarded is representative of Puerto Ricans is,

to say the least, unbelievable.” 64 He also challenged and dismissed the researchers’

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 141

methods—sample size, tests conducted, language employed, and support sought

from the Porteus and Babcock study. He turned to the 1925 Columbia University

study, a comprehensive study of Puerto Rico’s public school system, to refute the

1935 study results by challenging the arguments based on racial psychology and

intelligence tests.

Why did the modest 1935 study warrant any reaction at all? Cebollero’s re -

sponse, his rejection of the study’s intentions, methods, and arguments, was more

than a simple academic exercise. Puerto Rican identity—particularly its 1930s in -

terpretations of “race,” class, and modernity—was at stake. First, Cebollero’s refutation

spoke to how he defined his own position in Puerto Rico’s colonial social

hierarchy—as a member of the liberal elite, an intellectual, a modern educator.

It also reflected his “national” ideology in the 1930s as an administrator of a colonial

school system that represented a new generation of educators who were challenging

the practice of Americanization and its legacy of censure of nationalism

within the public school system. Cebollero’s response contributes to our understanding

of how liberal intellectuals engaged the concepts of race, nation, and

colonialism in the 1930s and how students, schools, and public education were

at the heart of this debate.

In addition, the way Cebollero crafted his rejection of the study reflected

one of the ways Puerto Rican intellectuals and intermediate actors constructed

their own characterization of the early twentieth-century diaspora in conversation

with the 1930s debates over race and nation. The diaspora was clearly present

in Puerto Rican “national” debates. Cebollero’s response was establishing

the histor ical construction of difference between diaspora and nation as early as

the 1930s. He demonstrates how “racial” and “national” differences were fundamental

to the construction of “authentic,” island-based, Puerto Rican identities.

Finally, Cebol lero’s response highlighted how both supporters and opponents

of US empire in the Caribbean generated a contradictory logic that highlighted

the existing racial and class hierarchies. Part of the urgency of the 1930s national

identity debates was an awareness of the economic and political limitations

within the US imperial framework. For both the Puerto Rican and US examples,

national identities were interconnected and constructed within the broader im -

perial framework.

An analysis of Cebollero’s reaction to the 1935 study, then, allows us to examine

the construction of national identities, the reproduction of empire, and the

centrality of race and class within both processes. These processes, in particular,

were negotiated through the construction of the Puerto Rican diaspora as the

emblematic “other”—it was an identity vis-à-vis which Cebollero could define

what Puerto Ricans on the island were not. Puerto Rican identity in the early

142 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

twentieth century, therefore, was not simply constructed in opposition to the

Anglo-Saxon, North American Americanos. 65 It was also constructed in opposition

to those characteristics that social scientists and educators (both US and

Puerto Rican) discursively imposed on the diaspora in the United States.

“We Cannot Warrant Their Authenticity”

Cebollero’s discussion about the “representativeness” and “sampling” of the 1935

study allows for an analysis of two interconnected intentions: first, the practice of

constructing “difference” between island and diaspora, and second, the process

by which elite educators of the 1930s generation chose to define themselves as

cosmopolitan and informed by modern science.

Racial and national difference sits at the core of generational conversations

that imagine a grave cultural difference between Puerto Ricans on the island and

those in the diaspora. These debates over authenticity and national identity are

often examined through the academic and literary discussions about the 1950s

great migration of Puerto Rican workers into the US mainland and the 1970s

return migration. 66 The 1935 study suggests that the construction of an important

distinction between the “authenticity” of those on the island and those in the

diaspora can be documented as early as the 1930s. In this 1935 example, the key

categories of race and class emerge as important concepts deployed to establish

and articulate the differences.

The assumption that guides the construction of difference in Cebollero’s arguments

and is illuminative of the 1930s generation was that the “uniqueness” of

Puerto Rican culture and identity was cultivated within the geographic boundaries

of the island, for it was the product of generations of isolation. Puerto Rican

identity represented a uniqueness more broadly rooted in Latin heritage and

civilization, which was defined in opposition to an Anglo-Saxon, North American

culture. But, creole elites argued, the Puerto Rican version of a Latin American

civilization did not travel well and was easily corrupted, especially when located

within the heart of US empire, the mainland. It was from this assumption about

the degenerative potential of Puerto Rican cultural and national identities that

Cebollero and other creole elites could propose their own versions of derogatory

and racist descriptions of Puerto Ricans in the US mainland and Hawaii in

the early twentieth century.

More specifically, Cebollero challenged the representativeness of the study

sample based on two critical characteristics: race and class. “The extent to which

the ‘sampling’ selected is truly representative of the group is the cornerstone of the

whole structure.” In addition to the broader questions and assumptions that guided

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 143

the study, Cebollero’s main concern about the sampling’s representativeness—

which sits at the heart of the distinction between island and diaspora—was more

effectively explained through the language of race and class: “Out of the 240

pupils included, 182 were colored or had indications of negro antecedents. This

represents 76 per cent of the total.” 67 While Cebollero warned that it was unlikely

that these figures were correct (“we cannot warrant their authenticity”), they

nevertheless undermined the sample’s representativeness: “The color distribution

of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, according to the 1930 census, was 74.3 per cent

white and 25.7 per cent colored.” 68 Cebollero sought authority from the politically

constructed and subjective US census figures to conclude that “if the color

classification of the 240 pupils included in the investigation is correct, the propor -

tion of white to colored children is approximately the reverse of the proportion

found in Puerto Rico.” 69

The group of children under study was therefore, by definition, not representative

of Puerto Ricans on the island. Instead, based on descriptions of phenotype

and color alone, those in the diaspora represented the opposite, the inverse,

of what was “typical” of the island population. The diaspora was an illegitimate

and inauthentic representative of Puerto Ricans: “This fact is an evidence of the

absolute disregard of the principle of ‘representativeness,’ which should have

guided the Chamber of Commerce research workers in selecting the ‘sampling’

for their study.” 70

Historians Eileen Findlay, Luis Figueroa, and Ileana Rodríguez-Silva have

examined how race and class were interconnected in the construction of social

hierarchies in Puerto Rico. 71 And the connection between race and class, the

racialization of class, has been thoroughly documented and debated in Latin

American and Caribbean historiography. 72 Cebollero was better versed in a debate

over the markers of class and he dismissed an overt discussion on race. This was

a strategy Cebollero deployed to dismiss the value and quality of the study: “A

second evidence of the disregard of the researchers . . . for the tenets of correct

sampling is to be found in the absence of any occupational analysis of the heads

of the families.” 73 He dismissed the “inconsequential details” the researchers chose

to collect about the parents—whether they were on relief, employed, or at home.

Cebollero, additionally, referenced contemporary arguments within the discipline

of psychology to explain the value of occupation and class in a study that

intended to measure intelligence. He cited two Columbia University studies to

document the “strong link between occupational analysis and social status [May

Bere 1924 and Paul Monroe 1925].” He did not challenge the “established fact

of psychology that the intelligence levels of various occupations range from very

low in such occupations as laborer, miner, teamster, barber, horseshoer, etc., to

144 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

very high in the professions of engineering, medicine, accountancy, etc.” Instead,

he reinforced the relationship between class and intellect and questioned whether

the Spanish Harlem neighborhood was the best community from which to draw

assumptions about the range of classes and intellect in both Puerto Rico and

New York: “It is entirely reasonable to suppose that the neighborhood that feeds

the school selected may not have supplied a distribution of occupations typical

of the Puerto Rican population of New York or Puerto Rico in general.” 74

Within the broader category of class and social status, Cebollero questioned

other descriptions of the student group that he believed challenged the sample’s

representativeness: poverty and retardation. “It is stated in the report that over

one-half of the children studied were on relief and that forty-seven per cent were

retarded.” If these were the group characteristics, after all, how would Cebollero

question the low test results? Cebollero cited a 1923 Rudolf Pintner study to confirm

his understanding and acceptance that “low intelligence is likely to be very

common among the unemployed,” that “retardation in school work has been

generally associated with low intelligence,” and that “all results show the negro

decidedly inferior to the white on standard intelligence tests.” He was not questioning

the link between class, race, and low intelligence. Instead, he was arguing

that a sample that was dominated by those characteristics—which he assumed

should score low on tests—was not representative of Puerto Ricans on the island:

“With such a ‘sampling,’ the results of psychological tests of mental ability were

foredoomed to be inferior. It seems hardly necessary to offer scientific evidence

to support our contention.” 75

He was not dismissing the researchers’ report that the New York students

might have been living in poverty, that many were “negro” or “blacker” than the

“typical Puerto Rican,” and that as a result they scored low on tests. But those

characteristics of the diaspora, Cebollero asserted, were not to be applied to all

Puerto Ricans on the island: “To be sure, Puerto Ricans are not seventy-six percent

colored, over fifty percent unemployed and forty-seven percent retarded.

On the basis of such a ‘sampling’—and it can be easily duplicated from among

American-born children in almost any state in the Union—a researcher who is

not particularly scrupulous about his task, could pronounce any American community

inferior, fit for deportation and unworthy of statehood!” 76 In this 1935

example, therefore, Cebollero was crafting an argument about the fundamental

“difference” between the diaspora and the island that was based on his interpretation

of the categories of race and class. These categories are as important for

how they are interconnected in the construction of Puerto Rican social hierarchies

as they are for how they have been historically deployed—as a discursive

strategy in the construction of difference between island and diaspora.

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 145

Cebollero’s discussion of race and class differences, however, also informs our

second contention about his use of the “sampling” and “representativeness” discussion.

He was also providing an example of how the elite, particularly educators

and intellectuals, assumed and defended their own self-characterization

as a modern and scientific group distinct from the majority of the working class

and capable of challenging US (Anglo-Saxon) arguments about racial and intellectual

supremacy. Race and class were at the root of Cebollero’s construction of

the difference between island and diaspora as well as the difference between himself

(an elite liberal creole) and the black/working classes.

How was the race and class difference that Cebollero constructed between

island and diaspora also a reflection and affirmation of his class position? He

spoke as an elite intellectual, the second-in-command of the colonial public

school system. Cebollero held a BA from the University of Puerto Rico (1913),

had attended Columbia University, and had earned an MA from the University

of Chicago (1929). He was serving as an assistant professor of educational

administration at the University of Puerto Rico in 1930 when he was appointed

to the position of assistant commissioner of the Department of Education of

Puerto Rico. 77 With the authority his modern and scientific education granted,

Cebollero dismissed Armstrong’s research as “unreliable because of its unscientific

method,” rejected its “unbelievable” conclusions because of its “absolute disregard

of the principle of representativeness,” and concluded that it was nothing

more than a “disturbing” study composed ofinconsequential details.” He charged

Armstrong with “casting about for evidence” only to find “flimsy support for the

sweeping generalizations” in the Porteus and Babcock study, another example of

“unwarranted and groundless” research whose sample was also “entirely inadequate”:

The amateurish attempts to draw conclusions about racial inferiority on

the basis of the studies such as the one conducted under the auspices of the New

York State Chamber of Commerce have drawn severe condemnation from serious

students of race psychology.” Cebollero found it “hard to refrain from the suspicion

that this is a case of rationalization.” 78

Instead of the rationalization offered by Armstrong and her colleagues, Cebol -

lero supported his arguments by citing conclusions established by “competent

psychologists in Puerto Rico” whose studies “attest to the achievements” of Puerto

Rican students. Outside of Puerto Rico, he referenced the work of Thomas R.

Garth, “one of the most distinguished students of race psychology,” and Rudolph

Pintner, “the world-famous psychologist of Columbia University,” to dismiss

the “ignorance” and “unscientific tendency to draw hasty conclusions” in Armstrong’s

“unreliable” and “wasteful” study. Cebollero reserved rational thought

and scientific knowledge for himself (and, by extension, other intellectuals,

146 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

researchers, and educators in Puerto Rico) while denying the racial eugenicists’

and immigration restrictionists’ validity.

Cebollero’s discussion of the study, the diaspora, and the island was also an

expression of the increasingly nationalist and anticolonial 1930s elite. His references

to the invalid and unscientific nature of the study demonstrated his own

training as well as his right, responsibility, and capacity to challenge Armstrong’s

study. Cebollero’s familiarity with modern science, with education and psychology

studies and theories, attested more broadly to the new generation of teachers

and administrators that staffed and controlled Puerto Rico’s public school system,

a more defiantly nationalist group, proponents of their own cultural vision

and nationalist project. The 1930s generation of Puerto Rican administrators, in

particular, inherited and reproduced the tradition of early twentieth-century edu -

cators of promoting their own agenda and vision while aggressively challenging

US claims of Puerto Rican inferiority, whether they were made by US administrators

within Puerto Rico’s school system or by racial eugenicists and immigration

restrictionists on the mainland.

“American Citizens of Puerto Rican Birth or Extraction”

In his condemnation of the 1935 study and rejection of the characteristics attributed

to the diaspora, Cebollero also contributed to the process of both defining

Puerto Rican identity and highlighting the contradictions of citizenship, nation,

and empire. When he rejected the derogatory (race, class, and intellect) description

of Puerto Ricans, he did so through the language that framed the study—

the language of “immigrants” and “national groups.” For example, he rejected the

assumption that a study of Puerto Ricans in the diaspora could represent the

“quality” of those on the island, “for it is as absurd as if a psychological test of

the immigrant Italian were to be taken as a measure of the ability of the Roman

citizen generally.” When he emphasized that Armstrong and her colleagues applied

unscientific methods and rejected the support they alleged was present in the

Porteus and Babcock Hawaii study, Cebollero referred to Pintner’s “definite pronouncement:

‘It is only by testing adequate samplings of national groups within

their own countries that we may approximate some knowledge of racial or national

differences in intelligence.’” 79 In the process of rejecting the study’s assumptions

and conclusions, he argued that national groups cannot be effectively tested

outside of their home countries, nor can they be tested in a foreign language. He

established and confirmed that Puerto Ricans were a separate “national” group

in opposition to the “native” control groups in the United States, that they were

native Spanish speakers whose intelligence could not be evaluated through tests

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 147

with “instructions . . . given in English,” and that they maintained a “racial” composition

and heritage different from that presented in the diaspora and in the US

mainland more broadly.

Cebollero’s assertion that the quality of the Puerto Ricans on the island could

not be tested in the mainland through the diaspora group in the end reflected

his definition of Puerto Ricans as a “national group.” It did not deny, however,

that Puerto Ricans were also part of the US “nation,” members of the US empire,

because they were US citizens residing in an unincorporated American colony. In

his final denouncement of the study, therefore, he returned to his initial challenge:

the study was “useless as a measure of . . . immigration control because

Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such have free access to the country.”

80 And he concluded that “it is regrettable that the efforts and expense . . .

should have been wasted on a piece of research that is . . . productive of ill-feeling

among the American citizens of Puerto Rican birth or extraction residing in the

United States and Puerto Rico.” 81 He asserted and reminded the researchers that

Puerto Ricans, despite his promotion of their distinct national identity throughout

his response, were fundamentally US citizens first. In his rejection of the

study, Cebollero restated and affirmed Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with

the United States and acknowledged Puerto Ricans’ location within the modern

US empire at the same time that he deployed a more expansive definition of citizenship

than Armstrong.

This, ultimately, represents one line of argument proposed by other liberal

intellectuals and educators in early twentieth-century Puerto Rico. First, Cebol -

lero asserted the core (and mythic) tenets of Puerto Rico’s unique culture and

civilization, one rooted in Latin heritage, Spanish language, and geography. And he

established that these characteristics defined Puerto Rico as a distinct “national

group.” Second, he employed a romanticized Puerto Rican vision of the United

States as a nation that was potentially a multiracial, multilingual pluralistic society

composed of immigrants representing a diversity of national groups, all of whom

were protected by the US Constitution. This version of the US nation had been,

after all, the vision proposed through Puerto Rico’s colonial public schools through

the early twentieth-century Americanization policies. This liberal autonomist defi -

nition of Puerto Rican national identity and argument for incorporation into the

US nation, however, was deeply in contradiction to the vision of nation de ployed

by the US racial eugenicists and immigration restrictionists who were moti vated

by their “exclusive nationalism,” which sought the protection of the Anglo-Saxon

population from nonwhite peoples, immigrants, and colonial subjects.

What does Cebollero’s argument imply about citizenship, nation, and empire?

His response suggests that in the 1930s the way the prominent concepts of

148 Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora

“nation” and “race” were defined, contested, and deployed by different actors

depended on their location within the modern US empire of the early twentieth

century. Cebollero represents one line of argument within the broader 1930s

Puerto Rican debates over nationalism, colonialism, race, and diaspora, just like

Armstrong’s study represents a particular vision of racial eugenicists and immigration

restrictionists who in the 1930s were struggling to protect their agenda in

the face of increased immigration from the Caribbean. Cebollero’s response also

suggests that the conceptualization of the Puerto Rican diaspora was an important

site of contestation—a community through which both Puerto Rican intellectuals

and US “native nationalists” could define their own group’s authenticity.

The early twentieth-century diaspora was constructed as an additional contradic -

tory concept—different from both “native” US citizens and “authentic” geograph -

ically bounded Puerto Ricans. The diaspora became a location of contradiction

and contestation in the process of defining “national identities” within the US

empire. Fundamentally, this is one way the diaspora became a key location for

the construction of race, class, and national difference.


The early twentieth-century Puerto Rican diaspora remains relatively at the margins

of historical narratives of both the United States and Puerto Rico. The US

literature that examines the history of immigration and racial eugenics rarely turns

to the Puerto Rican colonial example for reflection. Meanwhile, histories of 1930s

Puerto Rico, when analyzing national and cultural identities or the militant antiimperial

nationalist movement, have rarely reflected on how the diaspora contrib -

uted to those processes. The 1930s, however, produced important conversations

about national identities in both the United States and Puerto Rico. And both

national conversations were forced to engage the expansion of US empire. The

1930s Puerto Rican diaspora was the material consequence of US expansion in

the Caribbean—a community born from both exiled anticolonial intellectuals and

activists as well as labor leaders, workers, and their families. Sectors of both US

and Puerto Rican intellectual circles sharpened their self-identity and national

definitions partly through this colonial site of contestation—the diaspora.

Immigration restrictionists and racial eugenicists struggled to maintain support

for their policies in the 1930s, particularly as the consequences of US empire

in the Caribbean were becoming more evident “at home.” Migration and

movement have been historically a defining Caribbean characteristic. In the early

twen tieth century, immigration was a consequence of US economic colonial

policies in the region. The black, radical, colonial, and/or foreign immigrants only

strengthened the immigration restrictionists’ and racial eugenicists’ resolve to

Testing for Citizenship in the Diaspora 149

uphold their position in the US national hierarchy as the scientific voice demanding

policies restricting non-Anglo-Saxon immigration in defense of their vision

and practice of “exclusive nationalism.” The 1930s diaspora became a good case

study—through a test on children—to confirm and substantiate their claims that

Puerto Rican migration, like all other migration from “the colonial dependencies

in the Caribbean,” must be stopped. Trevor and Armstrong, additionally, used

the children’s test results to generate arguments about the inferiority of Puerto

Ricans in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The children represented everything negative

(racial degeneracy, poverty, intellectual inferiority) that racial eugenicists and

immigration restrictionists argued could only come from the continuous migration

of non-Anglo-Saxon populations from the Caribbean.

The Puerto Rican diaspora, however, was also an important site for one sector

of the island’s intellectual elite who in the 1930s was debating the origins and

“uniqueness” of Puerto Rico’s national identity within what was a US imperial

space. The diaspora challenged the island-based intellectuals who were crafting a

definition of cultural nationalism and identity. Cebollero had to denounce the

study’s intentions, methods, and conclusions, for the US researchers’ statements

were meant to blanket all Puerto Ricans, not just those in the diaspora. But in the

process of denouncing the study, Cebollero also made important contributions

to the process of defining a national Puerto Rican identity in the early twentieth

century. The diaspora was important as a community conceptualized as one that

represented the “inverse” qualities of the island’s values and characteristics. Cebol -

lero’s rejection of the study required the careful distinction between his own class

(the educated, scientific, modern elite) and the working classes of Puerto Rico in

the island and the diaspora as well as the wider race and class differences between

island and diaspora. In addition, challenging